A blind woman fitted with a “bionic eye” has spoken of her joy after she was able to tell the time for the first time in more than five years.

Rhian Lewis (below), 49, was given the retinal implant as part of an ongoing trial at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital. 

The Herald:

As demonstrated in our video and described below, surgeons at the Oxford Eye Hospital implanted a tiny electronic chip at the back of her right eye’s retina in a bid to help her see.

The mother of two, from Cardiff, has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited disorder – since she was five.

The condition causes gradual deterioration of the light-detecting cells (photoreceptors) in the retina, which can lead to blindness..

One in 3,000 to 4,000 people in the UK have the disease, for which there is currently no cure.

Mrs Lewis is completely blind in her right eye and has virtually no vision in her left eye.

The implant, made by German firm Retina Implant AG, was placed in Mrs Lewis’ eye in June in an operation that can last six to eight hours.

During follow-up tests, Mrs Lewis was asked to look closely at a large cardboard clock to see if she could tell the time correctly. She had not been able to tell the time with her right eye in 16 years and for about six years with her left eye. She saw the time was three o’ clock.

She said “oh my god” When She realised she had managed to tell that the time was three o’clock.

She said: “Honest to God, that felt like Christmas Day.”

Later she saw sunshine on a silver car near the cloisters of New College, Oxford, when walking with a social services worker who had asked her to point out any features.

Mrs Lewis was then taken to the cloisters of New College, Oxford, to see if she could make out its features.

She said: “I walked up the street, and the lady from social services said to me to point out anything I thought might or might not be there.

“And the first thing I thought ‘there might be something there,’ there was a car, a silver car, and I couldn’t believe it, because the signal was really strong, and that was the sun shining on the silver car.

“And I was just, well, I was just so excited, I was quite teary.

“The enormity of it didn’t hit me until I’d actually got home, thinking ‘Oh my god, what have I done? I’ve actually spotted something out that I haven’t been able to do’.”

How the treament works

The chip is just over 3mm across and less than 1mm thick - it needs to be inserted at the back of the eye under the retina without damaging it.

After preparing all the wiring which is fed from behind the ear to the back of the orbit, a flap is made in the wall of the eye in the white part known as the 'sclera'.

Another cut is then made through the blood vessel layer of the eye known as the "choroid". From here it is still some way to the back of the eye and a smooth blue guide is first used to create a channel under the retina.

Once in position, the blue guide protects the retina as the chip is slid in and carefully positioned close to the optic nerve.

The blue guide is removed once the correct chip position has been obtained. This part of the operation is the most delicate and can take up to two hours.