Mum prepares for 'bionic eye' op after breakthrough

An x-ray of the first electronic retina implant given to Chris James at the JR Hospital

Annette Hornsby

Prof Robert MacLaren

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by

A WOMAN who has been completely blind since she was a child hopes a pioneering operation will help her achieve her ultimate dream to see her own grandchild.

Annette Hornsby, from Cowley, will undergo an eight-hour retinal eye implant operation in June as part of a groundbreaking Oxford trial.

The news comes after experts at the John Radcliffe Hospital achieved the impossible, and restored sight to a blind man with the so-called ‘bionic eye’ implant.

Prof Robert MacLaren fitted the retinal implant at the back of patient Chris James’ eye in a complex eight-hour operation.

Mr James, 54, had been completely blind in his left eye since 2003 after being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) – a genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness.

But now thanks to the electronic microchip, Mr James, from Wiltshire, is able to detect light and shape, and his vision is improving daily.

Mother-of-two Mrs Hornsby, 46, from Cowley, was diagnosed with RP when she was seven years old.

Mrs Hornsby, who has been completely blind since she was 12, said she was looking forward to the operation.

She added: “I am nervous, but it’s exciting. My grandchild is due any day now.

“Obviously it would be the ultimate dream to be able to see her.”

She added: “To be able to see faces would be mind-blowing.”

The operation not only signals hope for more than 200 county sufferers of RP, but it has been revealed it could one day help sufferers of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people.

Prof MacLaren said the team was now urgently looking for more people from around Oxfordshire with RP to take part in the study.

He said: “We are all delighted with these initial results.

“The vision is different to normal, and it requires a different type of brain processing.

“We hope, however, that the electronic chips will provide independence for many people.”

He added: “Anyone wanting to take part in the trial would need to be under 78, and fit enough to undergo an eight-hour operation.

“At the moment we’re looking for people who have completely lost their vision through RP.

“Oxford will soon become the leading European centre for retinal implant surgery.”

The operation required implantation of the power supply which is buried under the skin behind the ear, similar to a cochlear implant.The electronic retina was then inserted into the back of the eye and stitched into position before being connected to the power supply.

Twelve-year-old George Nicholson from Barford St Michael, near Banbury, was diagnosed with RP when he was seven.

It has left him with less than 10 degrees of central vision.

Mother Hetta Nicholson said she hoped over the next 10 years the process was perfected in case her son should ever need to use the implant when he was an adult.

She said: “This is all very exciting news, as there is a very strong possibility they will have fine-tuned it by then.

“It could help him enormously.

“We are extremely lucky to have the team at the JR.

“They are absolutely fantastic.”

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