An 81 year-old woman, with poor vision due advanced macular degeneration, has been fitted with a small, implantable telescope in her eye, in the hope it can improve her quality of life.

For a decade, Theresa Cowell’s quality of life had been suffering due to the macular degeneration.

Almost two million Australians have some evidence of macular disease, while one in seven people aged over 50 have signs of age-related macular degeneration, according to the Macular Disease Foundation Australia.

Performed by Dr Elvis Ojaimi, the ground-breaking surgery at Epworth Freemasons was the first time this type of intraocular telescope has been used on a patient in Australia.

Dr Ojaimi said Mrs Cowell’s life had been severely impacted by advanced macular degeneration.

“Mrs Cowell had advanced disease in both eyes and she has experienced poor vision for about ten years,” Dr Ojaimi said.

“People with end stage macular degeneration have loss of central vision, which affects their ability to read, drive and recognise faces. It severely limits their day to day activities.”

Mrs Cowell had to meet strict criteria to be eligible for the surgery to fit a Galilean telescope into one of her eyes. The telescopic lens in the eye provides 2.7 magnification, similar to eye glasses you would use at the opera.

Dr Ojaimi said the surgery was done using the advanced Zeiss microscope at Epworth Freemasons.

“The high quality of the imaging through the microscope assisted with this challenging operation. The large size of the telescope inserted into the eye means the surgery was technically difficult and the functions in the microscope were critical to appropriately position the device”.

Months of rehabilitation followed to train Mrs Cowell to use the telescope in her eye, requiring a lot of practice. While it doesn’t restore vision, the telescope has given her more freedom.

“The telescopic lens in the eye doesn’t restore the vision, but after extensive rehabilitation and training to use the lens, the magnification has helped the patient recognise faces and read words printed in large font. Mrs Cowell has also resumed riding her mobility scooter, which means she can catch up with friends and socialise”.

“Younger patients may have a better outcome, as there is a lot of hard work after the surgery in the rehabilitation process, which requires a lot of perseverance by the patient.”