GAINESVILLE, Florida – For the past two decades Walfre Lopez lived in the dark.
"I was around 21 years old when I started to lose my vision."
He was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease.
His son, now 21, was just two years old at the time. His daughter, whom he's never seen, is now 12.
While doctors told Lopez and his family there's nothing they could do, the family never gave up hope.
In a complex surgery by ophthalmologist Gibran Khurshid, a computer chip implanted in the back of the eye interacts with electrodes placed on the eye's surface, making artificial vision possible with special glasses.
"The special glasses, they have a small high definition camera which captures the images," explained Dr. Khurshid.
It's not vision as Lopez used to know it, but it allows him to see shapes and contrasting images.
"We are giving you a seventh sense and then we teach you how to use it as a vision," said Dr. Khurshid.
"After 20 something years, it's really exciting," said Walfre.
And now, tears of joy.
"Last night I could't sleep because I said, 'wow it's the first day that Walfre can see at least something about me'," remembered Walre's wife, Maioply Lopez.
Clearly, a life-changing procedure.
Doctors say the device is not for everyone. It will only help people suffering from blindness caused by diseases affecting the retina, like retinitis pigmentosa.
The FDA first approved retinal implants in 2013. Since then, the devices have improved the vision of nearly 900 people worldwide.
NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new technology called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System will allow people with retinitis pigmentosa the ability to see shapes and perceive the contrast between light and dark objects. The patient undergoes an artificial vision procedure that implants a microelectrode array in the retina. The electrode array then takes over the operation of the unhealthy cells in the eye and sends signals to a camera in the patient`s glasses. This allows a patient to make use of remaining cells to create some stimulation within the retina. However, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is not an exact replacement for natural sight. (Source: https://ufhealth.org/news/2017/patient-gets-bionic-eye-vision-system-during-uf-health-s-first-retinal-implant)