Heather Roussea/The Denver Post
Doris Ekblad-Olson is not too old to feel childish wonder at the idea of fixing her ailing eyes by letting someone suture in a tiny telescope.
But age does allow her to be blunt about her anxiety as the first Colorado patient to have the pea-size telescope placed in her right eyeball.
“I would rather I was his 100th patient,” chuckles Ekblad-Olson, 82, as she discusses the surgery with ophthalmologist Dr. Starck Johnson.
The former teacher was still game to be the Colorado guinea pig, though, and went under Johnson’s micro-knives at Sky Ridge Medical Center on July 17. Doctor and patient hope the successfully implanted telescope will bring vision back to eyes dimmed by a severe form of macular degeneration.
“There hasn’t been a lot we can do for these patients,” Johnson said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this to come to fruition.”
Johnson assisted on clinical trials of the surgery in Michigan, but implanting the device in Ekblad-Olson’s eye will add Colorado to the small handful of sites approved for the procedure. Medicare will pay for people who meet strict criteria for age and condition.
Ekblad-Olson suffers from “wet” macular degeneration, an end-stage form of the common, chronic disease, where blood vessels are leaking and destroying central vision.
“I can’t see the faces of the people across the table from me,” she said. “I can’t see the food on my plate.”
She wants to finish a memoir of teaching seminary in Hong Kong, and being limited to a sliver of peripheral vision makes writing a challenge.
The device, called CentraSight, is placed behind the iris. It projects and enlarges central images onto the still-healthy peripheral portions of the retina.
Over time and with training, Ekblad-Olson’s brain will balance the new images with her other, intact eye.
She previously tried a hand-held telescope that has a similar effect and improved her vision by three lines on the traditional eye chart.
“So I’m going to have a ‘holy’ eye,” she cracks, as Johnson began a preparatory procedure.
“That’s right,” Johnson smiled.
And that’s appropriate, she responded, since she believes “God has promised he has my best interests in mind, and all these things will work together.”
That faith did not stop her hard-edged questions for Johnson. What’s the biggest risk? How long before noticing improvement? Will people notice the implant?
The biggest risk is not achieving as much vision as she had hoped for.
She’ll have a good idea of her new vision very soon. Others will notice “a glint” in the middle of her eye.
Explanations over with, Ekblad-Olson faced a thick pile of consent forms whose blurriness underlined their own purpose. As a friend helped her sign, she never hesitated.
“I’m ready to take what chances I have to improve,” she said.