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Glaucoma patients seeing speedier recoveries

March 20, 2014

Procedure has patients back to normal activities within days

Story and photo by Shelly Willsey

A self-described ‘read-aholic’, Louise Skog-Lachapelle thought she had good vision until she visited her optometrist and discovered her sight was deteriorating.

The 72-year-old Edmonton woman was diagnosed with glaucoma – a slow, progressive disease caused by increased pressure in the eye that results in optic nerve damage and permanent loss of vision. The buildup of pressure is often due to a problem with the drainage of fluid produced inside the eye.

Surgeons at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Regional Eye Centre utilized a minimally invasive surgery that improves recoveries for many Edmonton-area glaucoma patients like Skog-Lachapelle.

Dr. Michael Dorey, ophthalmologist, examines glaucoma patient Louise Skog-Lachapelle’s eyes.Patients who undergo the iStent procedure can recover within days, compared to several weeks following traditional glaucoma surgery, which is still required for patients with severe, advanced glaucoma.

For Skog-Lachapelle, the iStent procedure had her back to her normal daily activities within 24 hours.

“It was a very simple procedure and a very easy recovery for me,” said Skog-Lachapelle. “Before the surgery I worried I was going blind and thought I might have to learn how to read Braille, but now my vision has stabilized. This has had a big effect on my life.”

Every year in Edmonton, about 100 patients with moderate, early-stage glaucoma undergo the iStent procedure. A surgeon inserts two, one-millimetre-long titanium tubes, called stents, into the eye to reopen the eye’s natural drainage system and lower ocular pressure, which causes glaucoma.

The stent is inserted through a very small incision on the surface of the eye, allowing for reduced healing time. The surgery can be done alone or in combination with cataract surgery.

“Using the iStent speeds our patients’ recovery, so they can get back to their regular lives more quickly,” says Dr. Michael Dorey, an AHS ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist.

Today Skog-Lachapelle continues to read stacks of books.

“I’m very thankful,” she says.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, after cataracts, but the number one cause of irreversible blindness. Between 400 and 500 glaucoma surgeries, including iStent procedures, are performed in Edmonton every year.

The Regional Eye Centre is one of two centres in Western Canada (Calgary is the other) using iStent technology. Dr. Dorey performed Edmonton’s first iStent procedure in 2011.

Everyone over 50 years of age should have an eye exam at least every two years to help detection and early treatment.

More than 400,000 Canadians are believed to have glaucoma although as many as half of these individuals may not be aware they have the disease. Glaucoma causes deterioration of the peripheral vision first, which often goes unnoticed. Surgery cannot repair damage to the optical nerve or restore vision, but it can prevent further loss of vision.