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Blind man will see wife again thanks to bionic eye
A BLIND man is looking forward to seeing his wife properly for the first time after receiving a pioneering bionic eye implant.
Chris James, 54, of Kennett Road in Wroughton, has been blind for the 22 years after being born with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a hereditary genetic eye condition that leads to incurable blindness.
He has now become the first person in the country to be fitted with a 3mm digital chip in the back of his eyeball.
The sensor, which is similar to those used in mobile phone cameras, converts light into electrical signals which are picked up by nerves and transmitted to the brain.
Chris, who works as a technical asbestos support officer for Swindon Council, now has rudimentary vision which allows him to see the outline of shapes, but he is having to ‘learn’ to see again after more than two decades without vision.
He says he can’t wait until the day he can finally set eyes on wife Janet, 64, a housekeeper, who he has been married to for seven years but has never actually seen.
“Janet is quite excited because I have never seen her – I do hope she doesn’t have a moustache and beard,” he said.
“I don’t have a picture in my head of what I think she looks like really, I know she is tall but that’s about it. I thought she had red hair and I joke that I think she looks like Kathy Burke because she likes Abba and I made the link with Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.”
Janet, who met Chris at a pub in Chiseldon, said: “I don’t even think about it anymore, you just get used to it.
“He thinks I look like Kathy Burke for some reason, but all he really knows is that I am quite tall – all the stuff you read about or see on the television about blind people touching your face and feeling what you look like is rubbish, he’s never done that with me.
“I’m so pleased he has been the first in the country to have this new implant – he had nothing to lose and the doctors are really pleased with his progress.”
Chris was diagnosed with RP in his mid-20s and his sight gradually deteriorated until he was completely blind in his left eye and could only tell the difference between light and dark in his right.
“My sight went gradually so I wasn’t particularly frightened, you just have to get on with it,” he said.
“For a while there, we weren't sure how badly my vision would progress so I just had to be prepared for the worst, you have to make the best of what you’ve got.
“I had to give up driving in 1986 and that was the biggest change I had to make – I didn’t want to give that up, but I had to.
“I am most looking forward to being able to go to Castle Combe race circuit and tell the difference between a single seat car and a sports car.
“I have been going to the circuit for years and have only missed one meeting there since 1975, I just love the noise, the smell, the atmosphere.
“I’ve always had that thought that one day I would be able to see again.
“This is not a cure, but it may put the world into some perspective. It'll give me some imagery rather than just a black world.
“Hopefully I will eventually be able to make out trees, vehicles and kerbs, but at the moment it is early days.”