Assault victim regains sight in eye

Always kept positive outlook after sucker punch

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A Winnipeg woman who was sucker punched by a stranger last summer now has near-perfect vision.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2018 (1658 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Winnipeg woman who was sucker punched by a stranger last summer now has near-perfect vision.

Seven months and three surgeries after a stranger walked up to Brittney Thomas-Ljungberg in downtown Winnipeg and punched her in the face, a doctor has given her a clean bill of health: her vision a surprisingly good 20/25, although if she focuses her right eye some straight lines still warp a little.

Despite the long and uncertain road to recovery, Thomas-Ljungberg remains as cheery and unperturbed as she first was when she snapped a selfie from her hospital bed last June and fired it off to the Free Press.

Brittney Thomas-Ljungberg is very happy with the outcome of her surgeries to her right eye. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I’m a fairly reasonable person, so I just took it as it came,” she told reporters Friday at Misericordia Health Centre. “I wasn’t overly emotional. I think a lot of people projected that onto me more than anything else.”

Thomas-Ljungberg doesn’t remember feeling much of anything in the moments after she was sucker punched, although her boyfriend recalled “blood everywhere.” But when her attacker — who police still have yet to find — took a swing at her face, he split her eyeball open.

It’s a relatively rare injury, said ophthalmologist Dr. Frank Stockl, the retina specialist who performed Thomas-Ljungberg’s final two surgeries. Misericordia sees somewhere between 10 and 25 people each week who have globe ruptures.

Dr. Frank Stockl repaired Thomas-Ljungberg’s right eye. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Imagine a grape,” Stockl said. “If you pushed hard on the grape… the skin would split open. So you would see the pulp or the inside of it and it would be extruding out. So the principles are, you’ve got to stuff that stuff back in and then you take the skin of the grape, put it back together and stitch it.”

A general ophthalmologist performed that operation, stitching up the 10- to 15-millimetre laceration the punch had left in Thomas-Ljungberg’s eye. Stockl came in to deal with the consequences.

“Your eye’s a very delicate structure,” he said. “If the anatomy is disturbed, especially if the retina — the part of your eye that you need to be able to see — is damaged by blood or just the force of the trauma, it can cause irreversible damage.”

Thomas-Ljungberg said the only time she actually did get upset during her recovery was when she broke her own self-imposed rule and researched her injury online. “The stats aren’t exactly great for it,” she said. Stockl said it’s very hard to predict the recovery.

For the most part, however, Thomas-Ljungberg’s frustrations were largely reserved for fielding the same questions over and over again.

“It got exhausting,” she said, “‘Oh, can you see now? Can you see now?’”

Now, Thomas-Ljungberg said, she can, “which is 100 times better than what was the original diagnosis of like, ‘Hey, you’re going into surgery, you might not have your eye when you come back out.’”

The 29-year-old is back in classes at the University of Winnipeg after putting her studies on hold for a second time following her attack (the first time was when her father was ill). Stockl said she’ll need checkups once every six months for the next five years and then once a year after that for the rest of her life. Thomas-Ljungberg runs the risk of developing glaucoma or re-detachment of her retina.

She agreed to speak out about her recovery, she said, because she’s seen people demonize downtown as dangerous and health-care services as poor in the city, and she wants to be clear that’s not how she feels, nor has it been her experience.

When it comes to how she handled the emotion of her long recovery, Thomas-Ljungberg is rather nonchalant.

“I don’t really have any tips or tricks,” she said. “You just have to play the cards you’re dealt.”

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, January 27, 2018 8:22 AM CST: Edited

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