Posted : Thursday Jun 18, 2009 17:20:28 EDT
PITTSBURGH — Cpl. Michael Jernigan’s last memory from Aug. 22, 2004, is being in a Humvee with his Marine Corps buddies patrolling a road in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. His next memory is six days later, awaking in a military hospital in Bethesda, Md. “You wake up in a bed with your head crushed in and no sight,” Jernigan said, his left eye a sewn shut eyelid, his right eye a slit of white, a severely scarred eyelid above. Jernigan’s determination to regain his independence after being blinded by a roadside bomb landed him Thursday in a new University of Pittsburgh vision restoration center, where he demonstrated a unique technology that allows him to “see” through a sensor on his tongue. “Literally, I see a black screen. I don’t have any sight, so every step forward to me is key,” Jernigan said, explaining the importance of a technology that allows him to perceive shape, size, location and motion through electrical stimulation of the tongue’s surface, chosen because it’s a good conductor. “Now I can easily accomplish stationary tasks sitting down,” Jernigan said. More than one in 10 combat wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan are eye injuries. Yet these problems receive less attention and fewer research dollars than other handicaps do, according to researchers and doctors at the center. The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh want to change that, helped by a $3 million gift that made the center possible.