Activation day for Willie Collins, first in Georgia to have Argus® II technology implant. from EmoryEyeCenter on Vimeo.

Activation day for Argus® II implant recipient

First in Georgia to undergo implantation

Willie Collins: A truly grateful human being, our first Argus® II patient

Just a few minutes into Willie Collins’ newfound “sight” with the impressive Argus® II technology (Second Sight), he exclaimed, “I like this new toy!” For the first time in 40 years, he was able to “see” variances of light and dark, and thus, have a degree of vision that can enable him to function better on a daily basis. Collins is an eternally grateful man. You might not expect that from someone who gradually went blind in his late 40s—with a good job and a loving family to take care of. First tested in his late 30s, he was told he had a serious disorder at that time.

He was born with a dysfunction of the rods and cones, the photoreceptors, of his eyes that posed no problem in his early years. In 1969, he received a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a progressive disease that ultimately causes one to go blind.

Collins was later referred to Emory’s retina service, and just this year received a letter indicating he might be a good candidate for a new groundbreaking procedure for those patients who are blind from RP. The device is a prosthesis, a retinal implant, that can provide stimulation of the retina to induce visual perception in blind individuals. When daughter Opal read the letter to him, they discussed it thoroughly before deciding that he, indeed, would like to have an evaluation.

During his pre-op testing, when asked what he thought about this implant, he replied that “If I can help other younger people, then this is worth it, even if it is only a slight improvement for me.” Collins understands from his physician/surgeon Jiong Yan, MD, that this is a “process.” “She told me it took time for me to go blind, and this process will take time, too,” he explains.

The day that the technology was actually turned on for Collins, an array of excited people were there to watch: family members, his surgeon Yan, Eye Center chairman Timothy Olsen and trial coordinators Jayne Brown and Lindy DuBois. Having been told that it often takes tweaking and time to learn how to use the technology, all were aware that a dramatic moment might not occur at the first “live” event. But occur it did.

“If I can help other, younger people, then this is worth it, even if it is only a slight improvement for me.”
Willie Collins

There were tears all around when Collins exclaimed “Light, bright light!” the moment the device was turned on. And he went on and on to rejoice as he “saw” the difference between darker wall color and lighter wall trim, light pouring in from a window overlooking the skyline, and most dramatically, distinguishing his grown grandson in a dark suit from the two physicians in their white coats. Grandson Bobby Stewart, an Atlanta Police Department and Fire Department member, was grinning ear to ear. And daughter, Opal, who has been at Collins’ side during this process, was equally thrilled.

As with other new technology, Argus® II can require weekly occupational therapy by Collins and his therapist. At this time, Collins has completed his weekly therapy and is primarily on his own, coming in occasionally every few weeks. But this patient is eager and grateful, and has been embraced by a number of happy friends, family and medical professionals.

The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System ("Argus® II") will be initially offered in 12 major markets across the U.S. to treat patients with late stage retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Current and future implant centers are located at nationally recognized hospitals in: Ann Arbor, MI, Dallas, TX, Miami, FL, Atlanta, GA, Durham, NC, Nashville, TN, Baltimore, MD, Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Chicago, IL, San Francisco, CA, Cleveland, OH.

Executive producer: Joy Bell, director, Public Relations, Emory Eye Center, Emory University, Atlanta GA 30322 USA. Video by Damon Meharg, assistant director, Media Relations, and multi-platform journalist, Health Sciences Communications, Emory University, Atlanta GA 30322.

Press release

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