A Blind Man Sees His Birthday Candles Again, Thanks to a Bionic Eye

A brain implant helped restore his sight after a tragic car crash

Emily Mullin
OneZero
Published in
7 min readNov 18, 2019

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Jason Esterhuizen, who lost his eyesight in a car accident, practices locating objects and walking after getting a brain implant that’s meant to create artificial vision. Photo credit: UCLA Health

InIn December 2011, a horrific car accident knocked Jason Esterhuizen unconscious. When he woke up in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, hours away from his hometown, he couldn’t see. The crash had destroyed his eyes and left him completely blind.

Esterhuizen was devastated. At the time, he was 23 and studying to become an airline pilot. The first two years after the accident were the hardest. “Life changes in an instant,” he tells OneZero. “I used to fly airplanes and ride motorcycles and drive my own car.”

Esterhuizen eventually got mobility training and learned how to read braille, use assistive devices, and work on a computer. Then, in 2013, he tuned in to a TV news segment about a company working on a brain implant that could create artificial vision for people like him. Second Sight, based in Sylmar, California, had just gotten approval in the United States to sell a retinal implant designed to assist people with blindness caused by a rare genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. Esterhuizen wasn’t a candidate for that device, but by 2018 the company had developed a brain implant that could change his life.

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Emily Mullin
OneZero

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.