Margaret Ward, 90, from Aylesbury, is one of the first people in the UK to have a revolutionary new treatment for blindness – the world's smallest telescope – implanted in her eye on 5 December 2013. She says the implant allows her to see the faces of her eight great-grandchildren for the first time and see her husband properly for the first time in 15 years.
Married for 68 years to retired newspaper compositor Charles, 95, Margaret Ward says the first time she realized that her revolutionary eye implant, the Implantable Miniature Telescope, from CentraSight, was going to transform her life was when she looked at her husband's face.
This life changing moment came during a simulation exercise prior to the operation to put in the implant, during which Margaret used a hand held magnifier which makes her vision three times bigger – the same as the CentraSight implant. Margaret covered over one eye to allow her magnified vision to focus more precisely.
Margaret has advanced late stage macular degeneration (AMD) in her right eye. She was diagnosed with central vision loss in her left eye when she was 12. Her condition meant she gradually lost the ability to read without an electronic magnification reader device, watch television or recognise people.
AMD causes gradual central vision loss. This means that you can only see out of the corner of your eye – so called peripheral vision. The centre of your sight looks like a black or grey blob and this makes seeing faces, recognizing friends, reading, cooking and even just navigating around your home or in the street very difficult.
"I am still in love with my husband Charles and it has been awful not seeing him properly for the past 15 years. During my simulation session before my operation to implant the telescope implant, I was asked to cover over the eye that wouldn't have the device in it, that's my left eye, and hold a hand held telescope with the same x 3 magnification as the implant to the other eye, and focus on Charles's face.
"I can see he hasn't changed at all in the past 15 years," she laughs. "He doesn't have any wrinkles. He's lovely. I am not one just to go on looks alone, so it's not just that he's gorgeous, he's just a wonderful person."
Margaret met Charles at an army camp near Algiers in North Africa during World War Two, when she was wireless operator in SOE communicating with agents who were behind enemy lines. Charles had fought in the infantry with the First Army throughout the North Africa campaign, then medically regraded, retrained as a cypher operator and transferred to SOE. She married him in 1946 after an incredible stroke of luck that saw them posted for a second time to the same camp, this time in Bari, Italy, where they became engaged.
The couple married just after the war ended, on March 9, 1946, and they went on to have four children, 11 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren – with a ninth on the way. The eldest of the great grandchildren is eight. Sadly, Margaret had never seen her great grandchildren properly except on photographs that she looked at using her magnifying reading device.
"I started to become desperate – three years ago, my family persuaded me to buy the electronic reader. It's a magnifier that can make text and photos up to 75 times bigger. I used it to look at photos, read holiday brochures and check my bank statements. It did work really well at first, then the text began to look distorted.
"Even if you can use a desktop magnifier, it's so important to be able to just see people. We live in a retirement complex in one of 61 apartments. There's a central area where the residents can meet socially and I don't recognise anyone – it's the same when people at church start chatting away. I think 'hang on a minute who am I talking to' – it's horrible.
"I was getting desperate, I was struggling to cope and felt really in the doldrums."
Then, last June (2013), Margaret heard a news item on the TV that changed her life.
"The first thing we knew about the CentraSight IMT telescope was one morning when we were having our early morning tea in bed with the television news on – I don't take much notice about it and heard something about macular degeneration and something about a telescope. I asked one of our granddaughters, Heather, who is a Vision Express optometrist in Aylesbury, to look into it, and she said I will find out for you.
"Heather found the website for CentraSight and she said this is an exciting new implant that helps restore functional vision for people with advanced end stage AMD and it was on the news because it has just come to the UK – and I think it's important that you investigate it.
"So Charles looked the website up, found the helpline number and we called it. A lady called Debbie helped us set up an appointment at Moorfields Hospital in London. We had to pay £250 for the consultation. During the assessment, they did various tests and I was told that I was suitable for the operation.
"We came home and talked about it and decided that it was going to be a bit silly to have the operation in London as we didn't want to travel all the way up there, especially if it's a day surgery. So we asked Debbie if there was another hospital a bit nearer to us that could do the operation, and she suggested the Spire Dunedin Hospital in Reading where the surgeon would be Windsor and Harley Street-based surgeon Mr Ahmed El-Amir, who had actually carried out the very first UK surgery to implant the IMT in June. That was the news item we'd heard on the television.
"So I became the seventh person in the UK to have the IMT.
"The day of the operation I remember as being really quite a nice day – it's a very pleasant hospital. I was with my husband and my daughter who drove us there. I was awake during the operation itself and wasn't aware of any discomfort and I don't remember even having an injection for the anaesthetic though I must have had one. I have full confidence in Mr El-Amir.
"The IMT does take a while to get used to – your brain has to learn how to use the telescope and blend the magnified vision with the vision from the unimplanted eye – so it's essential that you have specialised rehabilitation sessions which are all included in the cost of the surgery. These help you to adjust to using the undamaged parts of your eyes to use the telescope to see details that you just wouldn't be able to see otherwise.
"People with the CentraSight lens also often need to have a new glasses prescription – that's what I am now waiting for.
"I have only had two rehab sessions so far and I am hoping to be able to start to read text as soon as my new glasses are here. But I have had some real breakthrough moments already.
"The first one has been that Charles and I can watch sports on television – snooker and darts – without me having to constantly ask him who is playing. I can make out the difference and see who is taking the shot. We're sports mad, Charles and I, so this is really important to us.
"Another breakthrough moment was about 3 weeks ago. My daughter had asked me if I felt like popping over – she said "I've got Kiersten over". Kiersten is my seven-year old great-granddaughter. They'd planned it all before I arrived. Kiersten was sitting opposite me, with my back to the windows looking onto the garden so there was lots of light coming in behind me. They asked me to sit still and focus on Kiersten's face, with a black patch that I sometimes wear over the unimplanted eye – this is part of the rehab. I won't need the patch for long as I am doing really well, I am just using it while I adjust to the implant. Suddenly I saw her as I had always wanted to see her. She is Heather's daughter and I had never known before how alike they are.
"It was just such a wonderful moment. I said "Oh you're the image of your mum". I now want to do this with all the other great grandchildren – the trouble is, I am worried about scaring the younger ones with the black patch! Chloe is only two.
"Her father said: 'It's okay, she will just think you're a pirate'."
Patients and physicians can find more information about the telescope implant and CentraSight® treatment programme at en.CentraSight.com or by calling the patient helpline number on 0800 002 9998.