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Blind Scot can only see moving objects in rare case

Milena Canning was referred by a doctor in Glasgow to a team of scientists in Canada.

Milena Canning: 48-year-old was blinded 18 years ago.
Milena Canning: 48-year-old was blinded 18 years ago. Western University, London Canada

A blind Scottish woman has been diagnosed with a rare condition which means she can only see moving objects.

Milena Canning, 48, was confirmed as having Riddoch syndrome by scientists in Canada, a condition where a blind person can see an object when it is moving but not stationary.

She lost her sight 18 years ago after an eight-week coma brought on by a series of strokes.

After coming out of her coma, Ms Canning would occasionally see moving things, like her daughter's ponytail bobbing as she walked or water swirling down a drain, but was unable to see her daughter's face.

An ophthalmologist in Glasgow then referred her to Western University's Brain and Mind Institute across the Atlantic in Ontario.

There, a team of researchers used brain-mapping techniques to examine the real-time structure and workings of her brain.

They discovered Ms Canning was missing a piece of tissue at the back of her brain that processes vision.

However, they concluded her brain is taking "unconventional detours around damaged pathways" and using motion to create partial vision.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7I9tz8sLLY | youtube

Neuropsychologist Jody Culham, who led the Western University research team, said: "In Milena's case, we think the 'superhighway' for the visual system reached a dead end.

"But rather than shutting down her whole visual system, she developed some 'back roads' that could bypass the superhighway to bring some vision - especially motion - to other parts of the brain."

The scientists found Ms Canning was able to recognise the motion, direction, size and speed of balls rolling toward her.

She was even able to catch some of them at the right time and navigate around chairs.

But she was unable to consistently identify their colours or detect whether someone's hand in front of her showed a thumb up or a thumb down.

Milena Canning's brain compared with a regular person's brain of the same age.
Milena Canning's brain compared with a regular person's brain of the same age.

Ms Canning said: "I can't see like normal people see or like I used to see. The things I'm seeing are really strange.

"There is something happening and my brain is trying to rewire itself or trying different pathways."

The scientists say Ms Canning's brain "is taking unexpected, unconventional detours around damaged pathways".

Ms Culham added: "This work may be the richest characterisation ever conducted of a single patient's visual system.

"She has shown this very profound recovery of vision, based on her perception of motion."

A study of Ms Canning's case is published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

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