Recently-approved eye implant sugery

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SARASOTA - More than 15 million Americans are affected by some type of macular degeneration, a progressive disease that can lead to vision loss. But for the first time in Florida, a local surgeon used a tiny telescope to give a patient a better view of life.

It was 10 years ago that Eloise Hedstrom underwent a life-changing procedure to her left eye as part of an FDA clinical trial. “It made it more clearer, magnified, and it was a delightful surprise.”

The surgery implanted a small telescope to help restore vision to people with age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to severe vision loss. “You lose the central part of your vision,” says Hedstrom.

The disease currently impacts more than 15 million Americans, with 2 million having the most advanced form. “Of those, approximately 500,000 have the advanced form of macular degeneration over the age of 60, where they are legally blind in both eyes,” says Dr. Marc Levy, who performed the implant.

So now, for the first time in Florida, patients can undergo the newly FDA-approved telescope prosthesis for those patients with the most advanced form. “The surgery for the implant is actually an outpatient procedure. It's done here at the Cape Surgery Center at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.”

Doctors insert a pea-sized Galilean telescope into the damaged eye. “In this case, this is a 3x magnifier, and it goes inside the eye to render a magnified view on the retina where the patient has their macular degeneration,” says Dr. Levy.

81-year-old Leslie Vlontis of Venice became the first in Florida to receive the approved implant last week, and noticed an improvement just days after the operation. “She actually said she was seeing better out of the operative eye than she was her other unoperative eye, which was previously her better eye.”

And with Leslie's success, as well as with patients from the clinical trials 10 years ago, Dr. Levy says it's worth looking into -- you just have to qualify. “They have to first be seen by a retinal surgeon to make sure that they have dry macular degeneration. Then they have to see a low vision optometrist to make sure that they can in fact tolerate the procedure,” says Dr. Levy.