Health & Fitness

This surgery provides hope to patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration

Surgeons are implanting the Implantable Miniature Telescope to help patients with age-related macular degeneration.
Surgeons are implanting the Implantable Miniature Telescope to help patients with age-related macular degeneration. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

More than 15 million Americans are affected by some form of age-related macular degeneration, known as AMD. In 2010, 65 percent of AMD cases were in women, according to the National Eye Institute.

In Western Washington, a new treatment is available to patients with the most severe cases of AMD. Dr. Kristi Bailey of Whatcom Eye Surgeons, a division of Northwest Eye Surgeons, spoke about AMD and this new treatment:

Question: What is macular degeneration?

Answer: Age-related macular degeneration is a condition where the central part of the retina – an area called the macula – becomes damaged. A loss of central vision occurs, which interferes with a person’s ability to read, recognize faces and see fine detail.

Q: Who gets it?

A: AMD can happen to any of us. Our age is the greatest risk factor. Most patients are over 55. Other things can increase our risk, such as our family history, smoking and having fair skin.

Q: What is the cause?

A: The specific factors that cause AMD are still being studied. The issue is complex as there is not a single cause but a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Q: What is it the new treatment available in Western Washington?

Surgeons are implanting the Implantable Miniature Telescope to help patients with age-related macular degeneration. VisionCare Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A: The Implantable Miniature Telescope, or IMT, is a device that can be implanted into the eye to improve central vision in some patients. It is an exciting technology that I am proud to be a part of.

Q: How does it work?

A: The device functions by projecting a magnified image onto the macula around the damaged area. Because the healthier surrounding macula is compensating, the area of the vision that has been lost appears smaller. This allows the patient to recover some of their central vision.

Q: How long does the surgery take?

A: The average surgery time is 20 to 30 minutes when combined with a standard cataract surgery and slightly longer if removing a previously implanted lens.

Q: Is it FDA-approved?

A: Yes, the IMT received its FSA approval in 2010 and has been used successfully by surgeons throughout the country.

A scene as it might be viewed by a person with End-Stage age-related macular degeneration. VisionCare Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Q: How many surgeries of this nature have you done?

A: The selection process is extensive, as there are quite a few criteria to become a successful candidate. I began offering this technology last fall and have thus far have implanted IMTs for two patients with exciting results.

Q: What is the cost for something like this?

A: The IMT procedure is covered by Medicare and most insurance. The cost of the device is around $15,000.

Q: How well will the patient be able to see after the surgery and recovery?

A: The individual patient’s results will vary, depending upon the extent of his or her macular damage before the surgery. We test thoroughly to assess the patient’s visual potential with an external telescope prior to the surgery and only offer the procedure if significant improvement is noted. We set our visual goals based on that potential. Reading with glasses, watching TV and recognizing faces are often our most common achievable aims.

Karen Thomas is an occupational therapist of Peacehealth Grabow Therapy & Wellness Center, who helps with post-surgical therapy for patients.

Q: What is your role in surgery or afterward?

A: After surgery, patients come to Peacehealth Grawbow Therapy and Wellness Center in Bellingham to see an occupational therapist for functional vision training. Here they learn to use their telescopes in day-to-day activities. I provide training according to CentraSight’s protocol.

Q: What type of therapy will the patient need?

A: The patient and I work on his or her ability to use the telescope in functional day-to-day tasks. I work with both the patient and his or her family for training the brain on how to use the telescope. For some people, this can increase their ability to participate in activities of daily living.

Q: How long will a patient need occupational therapy?

A: According to the protocol, the patient will spend between six to 12 weeks in therapy. If the person is doing well, I see him or her twice per week for six weeks. If the patient is moving more slowly, we can spread out the treatments to once per week for twelve weeks.