Surgeons insert telescopic lens into Quebec City woman's eye in Canadian first

Jacqueline Rioux successfully underwent surgery to have a four-millimetre-thick telescopic lens — an implantable mini-telescope — inserted into her left eye to restore some sight lost due to macular degeneration.

Jacqueline Rioux, who has macular degeneration, underwent breakthrough surgery to restore some sight

Jacqueline Rioux has macular degeneration and her eyesight has been degrading for 40 years. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

A Quebec City surgical team has successfully implanted a telescopic lens in the eye of a woman with macular degeneration in what the ophthalmologist who operated on her says is a Canadian first.

"My biggest dream, and I think about this often, is to see the faces of my grandchildren," said Jacqueline Rioux, who started having vision problems in her 30s and now, 40 years later, has lost about 90 per cent of her sight.  

Rioux underwent surgery to have a four-millimetre-thick telescopic lens, called an intraocular telescope — an implantable mini-telescope — inserted into her left eye.

The CentraSight implant, created by the American company VisionCare, is inserted using a similar technique to that used in cataract surgery. The company teaches ophthalmological surgeons how to adapt the operation to slip in the telescopic lens.  

The implantable mini-telescope is smaller than a Canadian quarter and about four millimetres thick. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

"This is the first time it's been done in Canada, but all it takes is opening the door and eventually, I hope, the concept will develop, and more people will qualify," Dr. Richard Bazin, the cornea expert who performed the surgery, told CBC's Quebec AM.

He said the operation has been done hundreds of times in the United States and Europe.

Bazin, who works at Hôpital du Saint-Sacrement​, part of the Université Laval hospital network, said Rioux's surgery went well.

An ideal candidate

Rioux's operation was two years in the planning. 

First, the hospital had to approve it, then the staff and surgeon had to be trained, and then they set out to find a patient who was a good candidate for the surgery.

Jacqueline Rioux has been using tools like this one to help her focus on objects in front of her, but her Parkinson's disease has further limited her ability to use handheld devices. (Radio-Canada)

Rioux qualified because she also has Parkinson's disease, which means she has reduced motor skills, but the implant will free her from having to handle vision aids like a magnifying glass.

Until now, she's used what her grandchildren call her "big eye" —  eyeglasses with a thick magnifier in the centre of one of the lenses to help her focus her vision.

She said she can't focus on anything even just a few feet away, and when she tries, it becomes a dark or black blur. She cannot distinguish features or recognize people.

Months of rehab

At $20,000, the implant is expensive, and Bazin said he will not know how much vision Rioux, who is still in hospital, will gain from the surgery.  

"All I can say is her vision will be better off with the telescope, but I can't say how much better off," he said.

The surgery to insert the telescopic lens took about two hours, using a similar procedure to that used in cataract surgery. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The two-hour operation leaves Rioux with one eye with only peripheral vision and one eye with a zoom in the centre, thanks to the telescopic lens.

"It's sort of awkward to have a magnified image on one side and a normal image on the other side," Bazin said.

"Unfortunately, even though the telescope seems to be doing marvels, it's not something that could be used for everybody."

Rioux now has to relearn to do perform the most basic functions, like walking.

She faces months of rehabilitation.

"I think it requires someone with a certain determination, which I have," Rioux said. "I feel very privileged."

Dr. Richard Bazin performed the surgery to implant a telescopic lens in Jacqueline Rioux's eye, in what he says is the first operation of its kind in Canada. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Rioux said she's looking forward to the possibility of seeing the birds that come to a birdfeeder outside her window at home, and to cross-country skiing — a sport she already enjoys with her partner, but with the added bonus that she may now be able to see the trails.

With files from CBC's Quebec AM and Radio-Canada's Maxime Corneau

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