Blindness averted: N.S. woman secures eye surgery after cancellation caused by COVID-19

After public outcry over her case, a Nova Scotia woman will have the surgery she needs to save her eyesight.

Robin McGee told CBC last week she was going to go blind because the province had cancelled her cataract surgery due to COVID-19.

McGee’s eyesight is degenerating because of a rare side effect of chemotherapy. She has been battling cancer off and on for 10 years. While most cataract surgeries can be delayed, her cataracts are progressing more quickly than most.

Additionally, McGee recently learned she’ll need to go back into chemotherapy, which would further delay any rescheduling of her eye surgery.

After sharing her story with the public, McGee said she received an outpouring of support, with many people writing to the province and health authority asking for her case to be reconsidered.

She also received a call from a private ophthalmologist, Dr. Hesham Lakosha, saying he would perform the surgery at his clinic, if public health officials would allow it. McGee pitched the idea to the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Health authority says nothing in the way of private surgery

This week, McGee received a letter from health authority president Dr. Brendan Carr, green-lighting the private surgery. Carr said he’d discussed the situation with the Department of Health and “sought clarification” from Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“I can confirm there is nothing in the public health order that would prevent a private surgical clinic from performing this procedure if it is deemed to be essential on a clinical basis. Based on your description both Dr. Strang and I feel you meet the criteria and support this approach,” Carr wrote.

“It is important to note it is actually not our decision to make, rather, the public health order provides for individual physicians like Dr. Lakosha to render this determination based on their clinical assessment.”

McGee said the dread of possible blindness had been taking an “incredible psychological toll and physical toll” on her, and Carr’s letter swept that dread away.

“I was woozy and lightheaded with relief.”

Confusion over the public health order

McGee said prior to Carr’s letter, she had received conflicting information about what was allowable under the COVID-19 public health orders.

“I think my case illustrates that there is confusion. And clarity on this point is really vital,” she said. “I’m really grateful to Dr. Carr for the thought that went into this and the clarity with which he communicated that.”

She said she hopes her case will help others who are in uncertain situations over important medical procedures during the pandemic.

“What I think my case illustrates is that it’s really important not just for Nova Scotia but for all provinces to work out a pathway for the exceptional patient and their health-care team,” she said.

“Many doctors out there are greatly confused about whether they can or cannot advocate on behalf of their patient to get an elective surgery re-classified as an urgent surgery. They don’t know who to appeal to or where to go. And so I think that all provinces need to be clearer with health-care providers about what can be done.”

McGee will have to cover the cost of her surgery and she doesn’t know what the price tag will be, but said she would pay any amount of money to save her eyesight.

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