Eye tracking technology helps disabled Floridians communicate with their eyes

Technology being tested for use in emergency rooms across the country

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

HIALEAH, Fla. - Some are calling it a medical miracle.

A device that uses a computer monitor, a specialized camera and software that can use your eyes to trigger commands. It is called Eyegaze Edge and it is already being used with about a half-dozen patients in Florida.

Maylan Chavez is one of them. She has spinal muscular atrophy and says the eye tracking technology changed her life.

"My energy varies," said Chavez. "So being able to use the Eyegaze, I can compose emails, check my social media, stream movies and music -- all with minimal effort, just using my eyes."

The 23-year-old, who lives in Miami, said she discovered the device while attending a medical conference in Orlando last year. And while her specialized wheelchair helps her get around her home and around town, the Eyegaze Edge computer system she has on loan has expanded her horizons even more.

"As long as we're given the tools, we can live life like anyone else," said Chavez.

She refuses to let her genetic condition slow her down or prevent her from living a full life.

She has attended camps, attended college and was even named a finalist in the Miss Wheelchair national pageant.

She's also engaged.

"The disabled community is enormous," said Chavez. "And we're out there, and we have our own lives and to have this technology just facilitates that."

Chavez says this technology could help hospitals get results for their patients, especially those who are sent to the emergency room or trauma unit.

News 6 has learned that hospital use of the technology is in the works, with a beta test site already planned at a hospital in Jacksonville.

Patients in the emergency room there can use a device similar to the Eyegaze Edge to communicate with the doctors and nurses. With pinpoint accuracy, it can help them explain their level of pain, show where the pain is coming from and express their wishes about what they want their treatment to be -- all in the blink of an eye, without saying a word.

According to one intensive care unit nurse in the focus group, the hospital device will be called Eyevoice and will be able to track the patient as the slide in a hospital bed.

"They want to get back to everyday life, just like you and I want to," said speech-language pathologist James Brinton.

Brinton is the spokesperson for LC Technologies Inc., the company behind the Eyegaze and Eyevoice hardware and software.

He said he has seen firsthand how these eye trackers get results for people with Lou Gehrig's disease, which is also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS; muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries such as locked-in syndrome, or pseudocoma. It has also helped get results for those who have been paralyzed. Brinton said the first patient to use the technology was a police officer who was injured in the line of duty in1989. Though he was left paralyzed, he was able to use the Eyegaze technology to communicate with his family and the world.

 

"You see them light up," said Brinton. "The first thing they say is 'I want to text my daughter or my son,' or 'I want to go to Facebook and tell my friends.' To have that communication restored is truly a life changer. It's huge.

Brighton said that, so far, the first round of testing at the Jacksonville site has gone very well.


He agrees that the ability to communicate is vital to patient care and patient rights.  Other beta testing sights include hospitals in Vermont and Washington state. The technology has been through two rounds of feedback from critical care nurses and hospital staff. 

"We think about if we were in an emergency room, things like that can be so critical," said Brinton. "Where the pain is, how bad it is, the questions you have before going into a procedure -- it's critical.

According to the Eyegaze Edge website, this technology is now being implemented in research, national defense, gaming, virtual world and hospitals. It is being used in 46 countries around the world.


The technology costs thousands of dollars but some have discovered it is partially covered by both Medicare and Medicaid, and even by some insurance plans.

Brinton said that, with the help of this technology, some patients have been able to go back to work and attend college, and have been able to integrate back into the world around them once again.

"We have people who are writing their life stories on the device," said Brinton. "People who are teachers, who are musicians, who are authors, using this device to do everything you and I do on a computer every day."

For more information on eye tracking technology, and to see how it could get results for you and your family, go to www.eyegaze.com.

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