Tiny implant may help save sight

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LEAWOOD, Kan. -- One of many problems that can come with diabetes is vision loss.  Doctors have a new, tiny tool to help save sight.

The ability to read a magazine or book is one you might take for granted, but not Carol Spachman.

"I got to the point I couldn't read the tiny print that just a normal book has," said Spachman.

She has had type-one diabetes for more than 30 years.  It developed after an infection. Over time, the diabetes caused swelling and leaking of blood vessels in the macula of the eye, reducing central vision.   Patients typically get injections of medicines such as Avastin in the eye every four to six weeks.  They can get steroid shots, too.

"And it's not the most pleasant thing to have shots in your eyes.  I'm a bit of a wimp, I guess," said Spachman.

For her they weren't enough to save sight.  So six weeks ago, at Sabates Eye Centers, she had one more injection.  This time, it was to place an implant called Iluvien that's smaller than a grain of rice.  Iluvien releases medicine over time.

"And for 36 months, get the steroid medication working on the diabetic macular edema," said Dr. Nelson Sabates.

It potentially eliminates the need for other shots although, if necessary, they can still be used along with Iluvien.  The implant costs roughly $15,000, but Dr. Sabates thinks it can save money in some patients by reducing the need for other shots.  He says patients can't expect dramatic improvements.

"What we're trying to do is stabilize the eye and have some moderate improvement in vision," he said.

Spachman is thrilled to have enough vision to read standard-sized print again.

"It is a powerful thing to have some regained vision," she said.

Dr. Sabates reminds anyone with type-one or type-two diabetes to get an eye exam at least once a year, and get one soon if you notice changes such as distorted or decreased vision.