When Steve McMillin lost his vision due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare genetic disorder of the retina that affects roughly 100,000 people per year in the United States, he turned to the Cleveland Clinic for help. RP causes photoreceptors, cells in the retina that detect light, to break down and stop transmitting the signals to the brain that process images.
“When you lose vision as an adult, it’s very hard because you know what you used to have and you don’t have that anymore,” says Dr. Alesksandra Rachitskaya, a member of Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute.
After eight years of living in the dark, McMillin was informed Cleveland Clinic's staff about a new technology that could potentially change his life, the Argus II Retinal Implant. To create a "bionic eye," a retinal implant is placed in the patient’s eye and then connected to a device, similar to a pair of high tech sunglasses that are fitted with a tiny camera. McMillin was quickly scheduled for surgery and became the first patient in Ohio to be fitted for the device.
"Now I know what this device is for. It’s for seeing your grandkids jumping around and watching them walk around the room, or maybe open a Christmas present… This has really changed everything."
“It bypasses the part of the retina that is not working, and utilizes the remainder of the retina to give vision to these patients,” says Rachitskaya. “What we do during the surgery is we implant the external part of the device and the internal part of the device. The electrode ray itself sits on the retina and it’s secured to the macula with the use of retinal tags. Those two components are very important, because they communicate with the hardware the patient wears and can take on and off to use the device.”
Four months later, Steve’s vision had improved dramatically. The Argus System allowed Steve to return to his life as he was living it before, even giving him the ability to resume working.
“Now I know what this device is for. It’s for seeing your grandkids jumping around and watching them walk around the room, or maybe open a Christmas present… This has really changed everything,” says McMillin.
Cole Eye Institute