A Manitoban whose eye surgery requires a followup operation is dismayed he must wait up to two years with vision so bad he can't drive or work.
Kris Stevenson, who had been working as an educator in a northern community before he had eye surgery last August, says it was that procedure, known as a vitrectomy, which left him with a cataract in his left eye just 24 hours later.
"It's not a complication — this is an acknowledged issue," he said this week.
"It's known through Canada and the states. As a risk, they said a cataract may occur. But 96 per cent of patients develop a cataract. That's not a may, that's a usually will."
Stevenson said the lessened vision in his left eye prevents him from doing his job and operating vehicles. He relies on help from his wife and his two children for even simple tasks.
"Before my surgery, it was like looking through an oil slick," he said. "Now it is like looking through two pairs of sunglasses and at night I can't see at all.
"This is affecting my health and my quality of life."
But when Stevenson met with his doctor again at Misericordia Health Centre, he was told there was an 18 to 24 month waiting list and the earliest he could have surgery again would be December.
That's when he decided to meet with his local MLA, Liberal leader Dougald Lamont, and send a letter to Health Minister Cameron Friesen. While Lamont, who has also since sent a letter to the health minister, met with him, Stevenson is still waiting for a response from Friesen.
Currently, according to a provincial website, the median waiting time for people needing cataract surgery at Misericordia is 12 weeks. The website says the shortest waiting time — six weeks — is at the Brandon Regional Health Centre and Western Surgery Centre, while the longest is 28 weeks at the Swan Valley Health Centre.
There were 9,564 cataract surgeries performed at Misericordia in 2018-2019, while there have been 8,223 since last April.
When asked for comment, Friesen's office directed the Free Press to speak to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority on the matter.
A WRHA spokesman said they couldn't speak about individual cases, but he said wait times vary for each patient.
"Ophthalmologists make that determination on a case-by-case basis, and it is a medical decision based largely on the health condition and diagnosis of the individual patient," a spokesman said.
"The ophthalmologist can recommend an earlier surgery date for patients based on medical need, including for patients who have had vitrectomies, but that is a medical decision made at the discretion of the ophthalmologist."
The spokesman said there currently is no overall policy saying post-vitrectomy patients will get faster cataract surgery.
But Lamont said that's not acceptable.
"It is concerning that vitrectomy surgery led to visual cataracts led to visual blindness through cataracts, and that the surgery is offered without follow-up services," he said.
"His cataract is a direct result, and a predictable and even likely side-effect, of the procedure he underwent. If Manitoba Health is going to offer such procedures, it is absolutely critical and necessary that cataract surgeries are paired with this procedure."
As well, with data showing cataract surgery wait times have grown every year under the Tory government, Lamont said the cap on the number of cataract surgeries performed each year should be lifted.
Stevenson said he is not asking for his case to leap the queue — he's asking for it to be in a different line.
"I understand there are other people with cataracts needing surgery, I'm not saying they don't matter, but there should be something in place for people like me," he said.
"This was because of the surgery."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 5:38 PM CST: adds photos
11:01 PM: Fixes typo.