Larry Hester was 33 years old when he got horrible news, according to a report produced by WebMD and ABC News, and broadcast on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“The ophthalmologist said, ‘You're going to go blind,’” Hester said in the broadcast, speaking of his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition leading to retinal degeneration and causing severe, incurable vision problems. It can sometimes lead to blindness.
He had two young children and called the news devastating, according to the report.
“It was like the wind got knocked out of me. It was tough,” Hester, now 67, told "Good Morning America’s" co-anchor, Robin Roberts.
Blindness came quickly. Soon, Hester lived his life in the dark. His wife, Jerry Hester, was by his side.
"I just couldn't imagine being married to a blind person. It was hard," Jerry Hester said in the broadcast.
For another 33 years, the Raleigh, North Carolina, couple coped, until a breakthrough came in 2014.
Called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, it’s the world’s first FDA-approved device designed to restore vision to the blind. It’s being hailed as a bionic eye, according to the report.
The device is only approved for use in people with retinitis pigmentosa, which affects about 100,0000 people in the United States.
Dr. Michael Smith, the chief medical editor of the website WebMD, explained how the device works to restore sight.
“It starts with electrodes implanted on the patient's retina,” he said. “And then the patient wears eyeglasses that have a video camera on it. That actually captures the images, sends them to a video processing unit that the patient wears, that then sends electrical impulses wirelessly back to the electrodes on the retina and then ultimately to the brain which allows them to decipher really light and dark. Not great vision, but spectacular vision for them.”
It’s impossible to tell exactly what the patient can see, according to the report.
“It's not normal vision as you or I know it,” said Hester's retinal surgeon, Dr. Paul Hahn, of Duke University Eye Center, in the report. “But what they do get is crude series of flashes of lights in a pixelated fashion that allow them to make better sense of their surroundings.”
Hester acknowledged in the broadcast that his vision is “incredibly basic,” adding: “but it’s light and, in my case, sight.”
Larry Hester’s son-in-law recently rigged a set of Christmas lights around a basketball hoop. Video shows Larry shooting hoops at night.
“And so I was able to make about four out of seven baskets,” Larry said, smiling.
Source: “WebMD’s Future of Health with Robin Roberts.” ABC World News Tonight