Justine Wise of Tiffin has been called a rock star, but the 86-year old did not get the title for performing rock n' roll. It was bestowed after she received a telescopic lens implant in her right eye to compensate for end stage macular degeneration.
Her surgeon, Charlene Grice, assistant professor of opthamology at Medical University of South Carolina, said Wise is the first person in the southeastern United States to undergo the innovative procedure.
Last week, Wise returned to her rural Tiffin home. Her daughters, Kathie Aller and Sharon Breidenbach, and daughter-in-law, Maureen Wise, were present while Justine shared her experiences.
Diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1995, she initially had a blurred area in the center of her left eye, but her right eye was compensating. Wise had been getting by with a magnifier for reading.
"It was to the point, I couldn't see that well, but at least I could see with my right eye yet. When my right eye went bad in 2005, I had to do something different," she said.
Earlier this year, her vision deteriorated even more, leaving her unable to write checks to pay her bills. She could distinguish light and dark but little else.
Aller took Wise into her home in South Carolina, but she also did research to find anything new that might help her mother. Then someone told Aller about a "60 Minutes" segment describing an experimental telescopic procedure.
"That started our search. I finally found this place called CentraSight in California," Aller said.
When Aller contacted CentraSight, the person on the phone said only four U.S. facilities were doing the telescopic implants, but one of them was in South Carolina, only about two hours' from Aller's home.
Aller also learned the procedure was no longer experimental. The FDA and Medicare had approved the surgery for end stage macular degeneration in those 75 and older.
Information from www.centrasight.com explains the surgery involves a 12-millimeter incision to remove the eye's natural lens and replace it with a tiny telescope about the size of a pea.
The telescope directs light to the healthy parts of the retina to improve straight-ahead vision. If successful, the surgery can improve the patient's vision by two or more lines on the eye chart. The surgery is similar to that done for cataracts, but a larger incision and more sutures are needed to support the device.
Aller made arrangements for her mother to be evaluated for the procedure. The doctors checked Justine's eyes to be sure the magnification would make any difference for her and that the telescope would fit into the eyeball. With her age, overall good health and lack of central vision in both eyes, she qualified right away. Grice decided to insert the telescope in the right eye to improve central vision, and the left eye would be used for peripheral vision. Follow-up training and therapy would teach Justine how to make them work together.
"Friday the 13th is my lucky day. That's when I had it done, July 13," she said. "That's the first time in 86 years that I've ever had surgery I was put to sleep for."
"The operating room was standing room only. They had people from all over the country in there. They had it on closed-circuit TV throughout the hospital. She's quite the rock star. When we take her for her appointments, that's what they call her," Maureen said.
A video of Justine's surgery has been posted on youtube. She also has appeared on television and has been featured in newspaper articles. Her goal is to let other people with macular degeneration know about the new treatment. She said her vision was noticeably better even before she started follow-up therapy to re-train her eyes and her brain.
"Now it's up to me. I've got a lot of training to do," Justine said. "It's going to take a lot of work, but I'm going to do it."
Aller said the pupil of the eye eventually will grow around the telescope and support it, in addition to the sutures. Wise has eye drops to apply each day. She already has started exercises, such as watching television programs and looking for specific objects and shapes. Her favorite programs are "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right."
"I've got a bigger deck of cards and I have to learn to hold them a certain space from me and then check the numbers and see the different suits and letters," Justine said.
"Everything she sees out of (the right) eye will be bigger," Aller said. "They've magnified her glasses about four times ... so she has to train her eye to look at the bigger image."
Justine expressed gratitude for her daughter's persistence and for the support she has received from all five children, 10 grandchildren and numerous other family members. Some have helped take care of her home and her bills, while others have stayed with her or transported her to appointments. All continue to offer emotional support.
"She's not going to be able to drive or anything like that ... but it will give her the opportunity to read, which she hasn't done in a long time, and just little things that we all take for granted that she's not been able to do," Aller said.
"When you get to that point when you can only see enough to walk around and daylight and dark, and there's something available, you're going to go with it," Wise said. "Since nobody knew anything about it in this area, we want to bring all that information back here."
To view Justine Wise's eye surgery, use the link www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZNFGkf1ogs.