Seeing His Wife for the First Time

April 17, 2015
James Kelm standing with nurses and doctors using his bionic eye for the fist time.

Retinitis pigmentosa may have blinded James Kelm, but it couldn’t stop him. Despite the slow loss of his sight to the rare genetic condition, he kept active and even boxed competitively.

Legally blind for more than 20 years, Kelm is now a pastor in Duluth, where he helps others explore their spirituality. He heard about his new chance at sight from his sister, who discovered that the bionic eye was being made by a California-based company, Second Sight. In March a team at the University implanted one in his left eye.

In the first trial, Helms was careful to manage his expectations. When the bionic eye was activated, he could see light and contrast between objects. And when Kimberley stepped in front of him, he could see her move.

At this point the bionic eye doesn’t give clear images, but for patients like Kelm, it means being able to see lights and shapes that outline a path to follow—or that mean a loved one is near. Someday, advances in the technology may bring his world into focus.