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Medtech Miracles and Tragedies: Roger Pontz

Roger Pontz Diagnosed at 14 with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that often leads to blindness, Roger Pontz’s vision eventually got so bad that he could only tell if it was light or dark outside. “I would run into the walls in the house a lot and get frustrated,” says the 56-year-old Reed City, MI, resident.

Then, in January 2014, Pontz received the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, the first FDA-approved device to restore a level of functional vision to people suffering from RP. Pontz underwent surgery to have an retinal prosthesis implanted in and on his eye. An externally worn pair of glasses captures a video rendering of what Pontz “sees” and sends the video to a cell-phone-size wearable computer. The computer turns the information into signals and transmits them back to the glasses, from where they are wirelessly transmitted to an antenna in the implant. From there, the signals are received by an electrode array, which emits pulses of electricity that bypass the damaged photoreceptors in Pontz’s eye to stimulate his retina’s remaining cells, which pass the signal to the brain via the optic nerve.

Pontz’s doctor told him there was no guarantee that the device would work for him, but he decided to go forward anyway.

Three weeks after the surgery, when it was time to hook up the whole system, Pontz was shown flashes of light on a computer screen.

“I didn’t know if I was dreaming or just hoping, but I thought, ‘Man, there was a flash on that screen,” he says. “Then, I stood up and pointed at three lights on the ceiling . . . that was pretty awesome.”

Now Pontz says he can see black-and-white contrast, which enables him to locate his silverware and plate on a table and reach right for the handle on a car door. On a recent trip to Florida, he even dared to walk across a narrow suspension bridge strung over a pit of alligators.

Pontz says he held out hope all along that he would one day see again and thanks the people at Second Sight Medical Products for making it happen. “They’re geniuses, and they deserve every penny and every dollar they’re making,” he says.

 

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