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Retinal surgeries now happening in Waterloo Region

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Retinal surgeries are now being performed in Waterloo Region for the first time thanks to St. Mary’s General Hospital (SMGH).

Historically, people needing these procedures had to travel to London, Hamilton or Toronto because local hospitals didn’t have the expertise or the funding for proper equipment.

Thanks to a $1.5 million donation from the Savvas Chamberlain Family Foundation, and recruitment of doctors with the necessary skillset, the retinal surgery program launched in late September.

The program is expected to do 100 surgeries in the first year, with plans to expand to 300 the following year.

One of the first patients was Carole Laforte after she noticed her vision was off.

“Halloween night of all nights, I started seeing big shadows - just floaters,” said Laforte.

The vision in her right eye deteriorated quickly. She said it felt like a veil had been placed over that same eye. Laforte went to Cambridge Memorial Hospital and from there, was sent to an ophthalmology clinic.

“How long do I have before I go blind with this? He’s saying it’s a good question, but no answer,” Laforte said, recalling a conversation with a specialist.

She was sent to get an ultrasound, found out she had a retinal tear, and was later referred to Dr. Carl Shen, a vitreoretinal surgeon at SMGH.

The timing couldn’t have been better considering the retinal surgery program had just launched.

“She was actually one of the first cases that we were able to add on in terms of a somewhat emergency basis, where she initially presented to one of the general ophthalmologists in the community and was identified to have a bleed in the eye – a vitreous hemorrhage,” said Dr. Shen.

He explained how vital it was to be able to get Laforte in so quickly considering the tear could’ve rapidly evolved into a retinal detachment.

“Retina is one of the specialties where sooner care is very important,” said Dr. Shen.

Now he can treat patients in their own community for things like retinal detachments, dislocated lenses or complex cataracts.

Laforte was unaware of the lengths patients before her had to go to until after her vision was fully restored. In the end, she was given a new perspective in more ways than one.”

“I didn’t realize how fortunate I was, really.”

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