A grandfather has been able to gaze at the Christmas lights for the first time in 35 years after his sight was restored by pioneering cyber surgery.
Former butcher Keith Hayman is one of three patients fitted with a bionic eye at Manchester Eye Hospital during a trial.
Now 10 other patients are set to benefit from the state-of-the-art implants.
Grandfather-of-five, Mr Hayman, from Fleetwood, was forced to give up work in 1981 when he was registered as blind after suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited disease that causes blindness.
He said: “Having spent half my life in darkness, I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees.
“When I used to go to the pub, I would be talking to a friend, who might have walked off and I couldn’t tell and kept talking to myself.
“This doesn’t happen anymore because I can tell when they have gone. These little things make all the difference to me.”
NHS England will provide funding for further testing of the Argus II, also known as the Bionic Eye, for 10 patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Five of these procedures will take place at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital (MREH) next year, with the other half at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
One of the first implanting surgeons was Professor Paulo Stanga from Manchester ye Hospital.
He said: “I’m delighted that our pioneering research has provided the evidence to support NHS England’s decision to fund the bionic eye for the first time for patients.
“It surpassed all of our expectations when we realised that one of the RP patients in Manchester using the bionic eye could identify large letters for the first time in his adult life.
“Our work also has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of other patients with the more common condition, age-related macular degeneration – Manchester is currently the only site in the world to be trialing the bionic eye.”
Patients using the system, developed by American company Second Sight Medical Products, are given an implant into their retina and a camera mounted on a pair of glasses sends wireless signals direct to the nerves which control sight.
The signals are then ‘decoded’ by the brain as flashes of light.
Patients will then be monitored for a year, during which they will be assessed on how the implants improve their everyday lives.
Genetic eye disorder results in slow loss of vision and blindness
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of genetic disorders that affect the retina’s ability to respond to light. This inherited disease causes a slow loss of vision, beginning with decreased night vision and loss of peripheral (side) vision. Eventually, blindness results. There is no cure for RP.
With most forms of RP, rods — which are mainly in the outer regions of the retina and are responsible for our peripheral and night vision — degenerate first. When the retina’s more centrally-located cones are affected, the result is loss of colour perception and central (reading) vision.