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Michigan Man Regains Sight with New 'Bionic Eye'

Apr 23, 2014 02:48 PM EDT

Roger Pontz of Michigan can now see again after years of almost complete blindness thanks to his new "bionic eye," according to a report by The Associated Press. He is one of four people in the United States to receive an artificial retina since the Food and Drug Administration approved its use last year.

Retinitis pigmentosa slowly robbed Pontz, 55, of his sight when he was just a teenager. Luckily, a high-tech procedure that involved the surgical implantation of a bionic eye helped him regain some of his eyesight - at least enough for him to catch small glimpses.

"It's awesome. It's exciting - seeing something new every day," Pontz said during a recent appointment at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center.

The Ann Arbor facility plants the device in one eye, and the patient wears glasses with a camera that converts images into electrical impulses that go to the retina - though it doesn't completely restore vision.

"It is expected that they will be able to see objects, or lights in front of them," Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, a surgeon at the Kellogg Eye Center, told WWZM.

But for Pontz, that's more than enough.

"I can walk through the house with ease. If that's all I get out of this, it'd be great."

About 100,000 people in the United States have inherited retinitis pigmentosa, caused by a deficit of light-sensitive rods and cones, which renders its victims nearly blind. Unfortunately, not everyone can benefit from the bionic eye technology. Dr. Brian Mech, an executive with the device's manufacturer Second Sight Medical Products Inc., says only about 7,500 people have vision low enough and are eligible.

The Kellogg Eye Center is one of 12 facilities offering the new surgery.

"What's it worth to see again?" Pontz's wife Terri said. "It's worth everything."

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