Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
June 1, 1998

Individuals whose sight has been severely impaired by macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or other blinding diseases have new hope for independence.

The Emory Eye Center's Low Vision Clinic now offers patients a new digital visual system called V-max, which can help them see well enough to recognize faces, write checks, needlepoint, paint -- activities they are unable to perform with conventional glasses. Manufactured by Enhanced Vision Systems, V-max is portable, self-focusing, and unlike other devices, provides distance and close-up vision in one system.

The system can be used by the individual in one of two ways. He or she can wear V-max over his or her head and eyes like a virtual reality helmet and view images captured by the system and mini-camera on two small screens within the helmet. The patient also can place the V-max on a table stand, point the camera over an object and view images on an attached video magnifier.

Seventy-five-year-old Virginia Bennett, who has lost about 95 percent of her vision from macular degeneration (a disease of the retina), is one of the first patients in the Southeast to use the V-max system. "Having macular degeneration is devastating," she said. "I can't do a lot of things because my vision is so limited."

Miss Bennett purchased her system about three months ago and uses it to read newspapers and books. "I find the easiest way to use it is to mount it on the stand above the material I'm trying to read. I enjoy getting books from the Library of Congress, which mails them to me." (She called her local library to set up the arrangement, which is free-of-charge.)

Dr. Ned Witkin, an optometrist and director of Emory's Low Vision Clinic, recommended V-max to her. "It is the only system available for patients with vision as limited as Miss Bennett's. It is the future of low vision treatment."

V-max can enhance and enlarge images up to 24 times normal size and can zoom quickly within levels of magnification without losing clarity. Images appear to the viewer in color, and the system has a built-in stabilizer so the image does not become distorted when the wearer moves. The system is $4,100 and not covered by insurance.

Emory's Low Vision Clinic offers a variety of low vision assisting devices that help patients meet their visual goals depending on their needs and budget. The Emory Eye Center is involved in a number of research projects with manufacturers, and it is able to offer top selections of advanced technologies and devices.

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