Judy Prociuk, 73, is taking part in her 3rd Globe Walk. 2017 is a little different – this year she became a medical wonder woman.
Retinitis Pigmentosa had claimed Judy’s sight, except for just a little light perception and peripheral vision. Then she was approved for an amazing new procedure – an Argus II implant. She is one of only 250 people worldwide to have the procedure. There are only 10 recipients in Canada, and Judy is the only one in Western Canada. The surgery involves implanting a computer chip into the eyeball (the stitches were so tiny that a magnifying glass was needed to see them) which connects to the other components.
The Argus II is also known as the bionic eye or the retinal implant. It provides electrical stimulation of the retina, inducing visual perception in blind individuals. A miniature video camera in Judy’s glasses captures a scene. The video is sent to a small computer that she wears on her hip. The video is transformed into instructions, sent back to her glasses via a cable. These instructions are transmitted wirelessly to an antenna in her implant. The signals are sent to the electrode array, which emits pulses of electricity. The pulses bypass Judy’s damaged photoreceptors and stimulate her retina’s remaining cells, which transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to her brain, creating the perception of patterns of light.
Judy’s is learning to interpret these visual patterns with their her implant. It takes about a year to retrain the brain and the more she uses it the better her results get. Currently she sees shapes and pixilated images, but she hopes to be able to identify letters on signs in the near future.
It is an incredible system. The designers are even fashion conscious – the glasses are Oakleys. There only flaw is that the Argus II was designed in California – it works well in the heat (up to 45C) but is not recommended for cold (under 0C). Since it is not worn all the time, Judy has had no problem getting around that.
So there you have it – the Globe Walk is truly for all older adults – even a bionic woman!