Eagan woman is first to receive cutting-edge ocular implant

Jo Zorn

For more than a decade, degenerative blindness kept 75-year-old Jo Zorn of Eagan from reading her favorite books, driving a car or even recognizing friends and family.

Now, thanks to an innovative implant in her eye, Zorn can do many of the things she never thought possible.

“It’s a whole new world,” Zorn said. “It’s pretty exciting when you can see better. It brings tears to my eyes.”

Zorn was the first patient to receive an Implantable Miniature Telescope since the device’s release in 2011. To date, the implant is the only surgical treatment available to patients with advanced macular degeneration, an age-related disease that causes blindness in people older than 65.

The device is essentially a miniature telescope that fits behind the eye to restore the patient’s vision.

Zorn was diagnosed with the disease at age 62, which over time caused blind spots and other vision issues. Within a few years, Zorn became unable to drive and relied on a magnifying glass to read newspapers and books.

As the disease progressed, Zorn could see large objects such as furniture but could no longer read or discern facial features.

Zorn, who is retired, relied heavily on her roommate, Dar Maeder, and others to assist with simple tasks like reading restaurant menus and church presentations.

For the past 10 years, Zorn and her ophthalmologist searched for effective treatments. Then in March she heard about the promising effects of the new implant.

In June, she received the surgical implant at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater.

The device, which is about the size of a pea, was implanted in Zorn’s left eye to magnify objects, explained Dr. Stephen Lane, ophthalmology medical director at Associated Eye Care Center in Stillwater. Associated Eye Care, whose surgeons perform the procedure, is the only provider in Minnesota to offer the new treatment.

“The device makes images clearer,” Lane said. “It’s not a cure. It’s a vision aid.”

An implant is placed in only one eye so the other eye can provide peripheral vision and depth perception, Lane explains.

An Implantable Miniature Telescope is about the size of a pea and that fits behind the eye to restore the patient’s vision. – Photo submitted

The surgery wasn’t the end of Zorn’s treatment. She spent eight weeks in intensive occupational therapy at the Courage Center in Stillwater.

Zorn had to relearn how to make her eyes focus and work together.

Although she still cannot drive, Zorn is able to read and easily recognize people’s faces.

“I can see people for the first time in years, and really see them without a blur over them,” Zorn said with a smile.