Manitoba surgical backlog: Winnipeg man pleads for cataract surgical procedure

A Manitoba man is sharing the challenges he is facing with cataracts, and says he is desperate to have the surgery, noting he has only 10 per cent of his vision left.

Kent Roy was diagnosed in the spring of 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Manitoba.

“I can’t cook, I can’t clean, I can’t bathe,” he told CTV News Thursday. “Everything that I used to be able to do, I can’t do anything.”

Roy’s had a challenging life. He lives with chronic pain that is managed with painkillers, he has had lung surgery in the past and now he can’t see. He said the only person who comes to take care of him is the pastor from his church, but they are now gone for the winter.

Roy also said he doesn’t leave his small apartment these days. He struggles to find the volume knob on his radio and the cup of tea sitting on the coffee table. Roy has also stopped using the oven to cook because he knows it isn’t safe.

“I can’t see, [it’s] the number one thing afflicting me,” he said.

Roy is not alone; in Manitoba, the waitlist for the procedure is long and has only gotten longer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For cataract surgery, we are looking at a waitlist of approximately 10,000,” said Dr. Peter MacDonald Wednesday at a news conference giving the first update from the province’s Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force.

Approximately 4,000 cataract surgeries in Manitoba have been picked up by a private surgical centre, but to address the rest of the cases, more funding is needed for both the private and public centres according to Dr. Jennifer Rahman.

In Manitoba, the hub for eye surgery is the Misericordia Health Centre. Rahman told CTV News surgical centres get an allotment of funding to do a certain number of cases each year, and if they go over that number, the operating rooms are shut down.

“Of course, this is going to be expensive but it’s an investment in the society and in the health of our communities and we’re not doing great,” she said.

Rahman, who is the president of Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, told CTV News the pre-pandemic national benchmark for cataract surgery wait time was four months. A 2020 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed Manitoba is second last at getting patients done in that time at 21-per cent.

Rahman said the pre-pandemic median wait time for cataract surgery in Manitoba was 10 months; By February of last year, the wait had already ballooned to 20 months.

“It’s almost two years of waiting,” she said. “From the time that you get diagnosed with symptomatic cataract that needs to be surgically managed, to the time that you actually get managed, and during that time you’re going to suffer with all kinds of things affecting your lifestyle, your livelihood, and even your safety.”

Rahman also said the longer cataract surgeries are put off, the more complicated they can get.

After about two years of waiting, Roy is desperate to get his cataract surgery done. He said he is losing the mental capacity to cope with his day-to-day life because even the simplest tasks are frustrating.

“I am at the point where it’s life or death,” he said. 

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