The Canadian Experience of Cataract Surgery

When friend of Orbis Valerie Molloy learned she needed cataract surgery, she wasn’t worried. Unlike millions of people around the world, Canadians have easy access to this treatment and Valerie’s doctor assured her it would be a simple procedure. Once her optometrist diagnosed the problem, he suggested she contact a cataract surgeon he recommended and ask to be put on a waiting list. Wait times can be up to two years for the procedure.

Valerie Molloy, a great friend of Orbis

Valerie had suspected something was off with her vision, but she hadn’t realized it was cataracts or how much it was impacting her eyesight. Things were a little blurry, colours seemed a bit off, but as the condition comes on slowly, she hadn’t noticed right away.

In early 2020, two years after she had been put on the wait list, Valerie had a cataract removed in her left eye, which was the worse of the two. It was just before the pandemic hit and she recalls how busy the clinic was. It was almost like a well-functioning factory, with about 25 people in the waiting room when she arrived.

You sit in a chair and get drops to freeze the eye over 30 minutes. They wheel you into a very cold room where the doctor and three or four of his staff perform the procedure. You don’t feel anything, you just see light across your eyes.

Valerie Molloy

The procedure took about 20 minutes once it began and the whole process from the time she arrived until she left the clinic was only about two hours. Other than having to wear a plastic shield over her eyes and needing to use eye drops multiple times a day, all was normal and Valerie was able to return to work the following day. This short procedure definitely had a profound effect on her quality of life, though.

The very next morning after the surgery I opened my eyes, looked around and said to my husband, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe the difference.’ Everything was sharper and clearer. It was like sepia versus technicolour.

While Valerie had to wait longer than anticipated to get her second cataract removed due to the pandemic, she found the procedure just as simple. This time, the waiting room was empty and the atmosphere very different, but it was still quick and painless. It also meant that her balance was improved, as having one eye fixed while the other was still blurry had left her a bit off kilter.

I can’t believe the difference it made in my life, I have 20/20 vision, I don’t need glasses. My vision is better than it’s ever been. The amazing thing is I live in Canada and I didn’t have to pay for it.

Globally, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, affecting 65 million people. Of those 13 million are completely blind. In Canada, those who develop cataracts, like Valerie, can have the procedure paid for by provincial and territorial health insurance plans. Even during the pandemic, the average wait time in Ontario was just 125 days. In many countries around the world, people might wait a lifetime—even children who are born with the condition cannot always access treatment.

“A cataract is a very fixable problem because you’re taking out a lens that no longer functions and putting in a new one,” says Valerie. “You think about people who are in low or middle income countries who have no access and it’s just so sad.”

Orbis hopes to change this. Our CatarAction campaign is helping to increase training opportunities for eye health professionals in countries where increased access to the procedure is desperately needed. For every $36 raised, someone is able to receive the treatment they need.