First eye prosthesis performed in Canada

Two patients have undergone eye surgeries that are being hailed the first of their kind. Performed in Toronto, the new and once unimaginable eye prosthesis surgery at Toronto Western Hospital offers visually impaired patients a chance to see.

While the eye prosthesis does not provide 20/20 vision, it does allow recipients to be able to see forms and outlines as well as light and dark shades, however, doctors expect patient improvement with continued use of the prosthesis.

The three-hour eye surgery involves cutting open the eye and inserting a microchip before closing the eye with 20 small stitches. The microchip is connected to a pair of glasses outfitted with a video camera and transmitter unit. Together, the microchip, video camera and transmitter process signals triggered by nerve sensations in the eye. The result is vision.

Dr. Robert Devenyi, Ophthalmologist-in-chief at the University Health Network, who performed the surgery, said the technology behind the procedure is “the most amazing development in medicine in our lifetime.”

“It is something I never ever, ever thought we would see and I’ve been in retinal surgery for over 20 years. These are people who we had long forgotten about, who were blind and didn’t follow-up in our offices because there was nothing to do for them.”

Devenyi says that patients who have undergone the surgery can expect additional development of better sight with a potential Google Glass collaboration and the as well as the development of software that will allow zoom and color functions.

Toronto Western Hospital is able to complete another eight surgeries but is still waiting for Health Canada to approve more. Since the hospital relies on donors to fund the surgeries – each surgery costing $144,000 – money will be a concern once approval is secured.

“But, how can you put a price on that for people who can’t even see?” Devenyi asked. “We won’t see a more amazing development than this in our lifetime.”