As many as 15 million Americans suffer from a condition that slowly robs them of their central vision. That number is expected to double in the next 20 years. These patients all have a genetic predisposition for a condition called age-related macular degeneration or A.M.D., which is the number one cause of severe vision loss in people over 60.
Now there's a first-of-its-kind implant to help patients see clearly again.
"It's blurry, very blurry, and I can't make out definite shapes," said Nathan Bark as he described what it's like to live with A.M.D. The condition slowly destroys the retina and with it, central vision.
"Initially there's' a central blur, then in progresses to where there's no vision at all in the central eye so there's effectively a hole, where they're looking they don't see anything at all," said Dr. Marc Gannon, the Director of Low Vision Institute in South Florida.
For the worst of cases, like Bark, there's new hope through a new surgical treatment called CentraSight.
A telescope about the size of a pea is implanted in one eye, after removing the natural lens. The telescope implant magnifies what is captured and projects the image onto healthy areas of the retina.
"This gives us the ability to assist patients with macular degeneration to improve their vision substantially," said Gannon.
After the procedure, patients can see an improvement anywhere from two to five lines on the vision chart.
"From the standpoint of seeing things in the distance, faces and signs and things of that nature, from not seeing anything to seeing," Gannon added that's a good thing.
Bark is able to read and watch TV with the help of special glasses. But he marvels at the thought of being able to see again without them.
"That would be priceless, I can't even conceive of it," he said.
Only one eye is treated in the procedure. The other eye is left untouched to allow for peripheral vision. Rehabilitation and prescription eye glasses are necessary after surgery.
The CentraSight procedure is only approved for people age 75 and older with end-stage macular degeneration.
CentraSight told Channel 4 that right now, the closest center to Jacksonville for this procedure is Orlando. To find out more or to see if you are a candidate, you can call CentraSight toll free at 877-99-SIGHT (877-997-4448) or go the website CentraSight.com.