Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 28th 2017 Contents A18 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Sharp vision: New
glasses help the
legally blind see
Jeff Regan was born with un-
derdeveloped optic nerves and
had spent most of his life in a
blur. Then four years ago, he
donned an unwieldy headset
made by a Toronto company
Suddenly, Regan could read a
newspaper while eating break-
fast and make out the faces of his
co-workers from across the room.
He's been able to attend plays and
watch what's happening on stage,
without having to guess why people
around him were laughing.
"These glasses have made my life
so much better," said Regan, 48, a
Canadian engineer who lives in Lon-
The headsets from eSight trans-
mit images from a forward-facing
camera to small internal screens
beams the video into the wearer's
peripheral vision. That turns out to
be all that some people with limited
vision, even legal blindness, need to
see things they never could before.
That's because many visual impair-
ments degrade central vision while
leaving peripheral vision largely in-
Although eSight's glasses won't
help people with total blindness,
they could still be a huge deal for the
millions of peoples whose vision is
so impaired that it can't be corrected
with ordinary lenses.
But eSight still needs to clear a few
Among them: proving the glasses
are safe and effective for the legally
blind. While eSight's headsets don't
require the approval of health regu-
lators---they fall into the same low-
risk category as dental floss---there's
not yet firm evidence of their bene-
fits. The company is funding clinical
trials to provide that proof.
The headsets also carry an
eye-popping price tag. The latest
version of the glasses, released just
last week, sells for about US$10,000.
While that's US$5,000 less than its
predecessor, it's still a lot for peo-
ple who often have trouble getting
high-paying jobs because they can't
Insurers won't cover the cost; they
consider the glasses an "assistive"
technology similar to hearing aids.
ESight CEO Brian Mech said the
latest improvements might help in-
surers overcome their short-sighted
view of his product. Mech argues
that it would be more cost-effec-
tive for insurers to pay for the head-
sets, even in part, than to cover more
expensive surgical procedures that
may restore some sight to the vis-
The latest version of ESight's
technology, built with investments
of US$32 million over the past dec-
ade, is a gadget that vaguely resem-
bles the visor worn by the blind Star
Trek character Geordi La Forge ,
played by LeVar Burton.
The third-generation model lets
wearers magnify the video feed up
to 24 times, compared to just 14
times in earlier models. There's a
hand control for adjusting bright-
ness and contrast. The new glasses
also come with a more powerful
ESight believes that about 200
million people worldwide with
visual acuity of 20/70 to 20/1200
could be potential candidates for its
glasses. That number includes peo-
ple with a variety of disabling eye
conditions such as macular degen-
eration, diabetic retinopathy, ocular
albinism, Stargardt's disease, or, like
Regan, optic nerve hypoplasia.
So far, though, the company has
sold only about 1,000 headsets,
despite the testimonials of wear-
ers who've become true believers.
Take, for instance, Yvonne Felix,
an artist who now works as an ad-
vocate for eSight after seeing the
previously indistinguishable faces
of her husband and two sons for
the first time via its glasses. Others,
ranging from kids to senior citizens,
have worn the gadgets to golf, watch
football or just perform daily tasks
such as reading nutrition labels.
EYING THE COMPETITION
ESight isn't the only company fo-
cused on helping the legally blind.
Other companies working on high-
tech glasses and related tools include
Aira, Orcam, ThirdEye, NuEyes and
But most of them are doing some-
thing very different. While their
approaches also involve camer-
as attached to glasses, they don't
magnify live video. Instead, they
take still images, analyse them with
image recognition software and then
generate an automated voice that
describes what the wearer is looking
at --- anything from a child to words
written on a page.
Samuel Markowitz, a University of
Toronto professor of ophthalmolo-
gy, says that eSight's glasses are the
most versatile option for the legally
blind currently available, as they can
improve vision at near and far dis-
tances, plus everything in between.
Markowitz is one of the research-
ers from five universities and the
Center for Retina and Macular
Disease that recently completed a
clinical trial of eSight's second-gen-
Although the results won't be re-
leased until later this year, Markow-
itz said the trials found little risk to
the glasses. The biggest hazard, he
said, is the possibility of tripping
and falling while walking with the
glasses covering the eyes.
The device "is meant to be used
while in a stationary situation, ei-
ther sitting or standing, for look-
ing around at the environment,"
Markowitz said. (AP)
Doctor donates kidney
to save sick colleague
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif--- It's
not unusual for a surgeon to
save another doctor's life. But
Dr Colleen Coleman did so by
going under the knife to help
an ailing colleague who des-
perately needed a kidney.
Coleman donated to Dr Brian
Dunn, an anesthesiologist she
works with at Hoag Hospital New-
port Beach whose kidneys failed
from chemotherapy he received
as a teenager to treat a stomach
Coleman came through after
one donor withdrew her offer and
Dunn's doctor advised him against
accepting a kidney from a patient
with Lou Gehrig's disease.
"I thought, it's not going to
happen," Dunn told The Orange
He had received a kidney from
his mother when he was 25, but
donated kidneys don't last forever.
In late 2015, his health was failing
and he could hardly keep pace with
his young daughter.
"I started dragging," he said.
"Holy crap, I felt bad."
He started dialysis in April
and needed to go through the
process four times a day to pu-
rify his blood. He referred to the
time-consuming and tiring pro-
cess as his prison.
Coleman's intervention also
almost didn't happen after an
initial screening erroneously said
she wasn't a match. Only after the
testing company called back in
June to say it made a mistake did
Coleman learn she was a match.
Her initial eagerness to help
out, though, was tempered with
second thoughts and fears until
she considered Dunn's 6-year-
Coleman's grandmother had
died of kidney failure when her
mother was a 6-year-old girl. "I
didn't want his daughter to grow
up without a dad," Coleman said.
The surgery last month was
a success. Coleman went to see
"I wanted to make sure my kid-
ney could pee," she said.
Dunn, 45, said he felt vibrant
and grateful three weeks later.
In a note sent to Coleman
thanking her for her sacrifice,
Dunn credited her with perse-
vering to help him.
"Monday, January 30th is a day
I'll remember forever," he wrote.
"It's the day that someone did
something truly selfless for me.
Colleen, you are an answer to
prayer and an amazing example
to everyone around you."
Coleman, 51, who returned to
work to find flowers, a cake and
people hailing her as a hero, said
she was moved by the note from
"I did not understand how im-
pactful it would be to help some-
one in this way," Coleman said.
"There is a benefit to giving. But
hero is a very embarrassing word."
In addition to the scars they
both bear in their midsections
from the surgeries, they also share
other reminders of their bond.
Dunn gave Coleman a set of
kidney-shaped Tiffany earrings
to thank her. She gave him a Tif-
fany money clip in the shape of a
In a Feb 23 photo, Dr Colleen Coleman, right, looks at Dr Brian Dunn as
they reunite at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California, for the first
time since she donated her kidney to him. AP PHOTO
Yvonne Felix wears eSight electronic glasses and looks around Union
Square during a visit to San Francisco. The glasses enable the legally blind
to see. Felix was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease after being hit by a car
at the age of seven. AP PHOTO:
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