The brain works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, a person who gets hit hard on the head can come out of the accident unscathed. At other times, even a not-so-hard hit on the head can cause a massive brain injury. And that can lead to all kinds of damage, including vision loss, hearing impairment, paralysis, and sometimes death.
For patients who experienced traumatic brain injury that resulted in blindness, there’s new hope in sight. Through the joint efforts of researchers from India’s L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Wayne State University’s Kresge Eye Institute, they now have the chance to see again.
So how did this amazing feat come about? The group tested their approach on 20 legally blind patients whom they performed vitrectomy on. Vitrectomy is a type of surgery that’s commonly used on patients suffering from Terson syndrome, a kind of hemorrhage caused by head trauma. It involves removal of the vitreous gel in the space between the eye lens and the retina, and replacement of the tissue with a saline solution. The purpose of this is to get rid of old blood that might prevent light signals from reaching the retina’s photoreceptor cells — the ones responsible for converting light into signals that can be interpreted by the brain.
For half of the patients, surgery was performed within three months from the time the hemorrhaging occurred. For the other half, surgery was performed three months after the hemorrhaging.
According to Dr. Rajendra S. Apte, lead investigator for the study, the approach is “very cautious and conservative with these patients because many have other injuries that need to stabilize before we try to correct their vision and because sometimes a hemorrhage will dissipate on its own and won’t require surgery.”
Legally Blind Today, 20/20 Vision Tomorrow
A month after the surgery, patients began to notice a change in their vision. From an average of 20/1290 vision before the surgery, it improved to a remarkable 20/40 average. After a few more months, it’s like a miracle happened — nearly all the patients regained perfect 20/20 vision.
Aside from successfully restoring the vision of the patients who participated, the researchers confirmed another crucial aspect of their study. By splitting the patients into two groups and performing the surgery at different periods, they found out that regardless of when they performed the surgery — whether it’s done immediately after the trauma occurred, or if it’s done later after the head trauma has healed — the effect will be the same. This means that no matter how much time may have passed since the head trauma incident, patients need not fear the prospect of becoming permanently blind. They can give themselves time to heal and stabilize whatever more threatening conditions need fixing, then just have the surgery when they’re ready. And it will still be possible to regain their vision.
Details of the study can be accessed online through the journal Ophthalmology.