Dr. Olivia Dam cheerfully handed my colleagues and me hairnets and booties before leading us into the operating area. In the middle of the first room sat a very large laser. We were in a building not far from my constituency office, taking a tour of Victoria Eye and learning more about the services they offer our community.
The impressive piece of machinery in front of us was a Femtosecond refractive laser, Dr. Dam told us, which she uses to perform cataract surgeries. It is the latest technological advancement in the field, allowing her to make a precise 4.9 millimeter capsulotomy incision into the eye and softening the cataract in less than a minute. Dr. Dam assured the more squeamish members of my team (i.e. me) that she uses local anesthesia and a suction-based docking station to keep the eye still and pain free throughout the procedure. “If there is anything that can make the surgery better for the patient, we use it,” Dr. Dam said. “We keep up to date with the very latest technological advancements.”
Victoria Eye was the first facility in Western Canada to receive a consignment of the most progressive extended range lenses available and is the only eye center on Vancouver Island with a Femtosecond refractive laser for refractive cataract surgery. Because these advancements are not classified as medically required to complete cataract surgery, however, they are not insured.
From the surgery center we head past the entirely sterile “clean room” and into the recovery room where a row of curtain separated beds (all empty that day) line the wall. Dr. Dam brings out a silver tray to show us the instruments used during eye surgeries.
Watching Dr. Dam’s steady hand demonstrate how she uses each tiny instrument was fascinating. Because their facility is not located in a hospital, each of the five doctors who work at Victoria Eye are trained in advanced life support. Thankfully those skills are rarely if ever needed, but if anything were to come up every patient is in very good hands.
Dr. Dam is a comprehensive ophthalmologist specialized in managing medical and surgical ocular problems. She did her medical degree and ophthalmology specialization at Queen’s University in Ontario before completing five years of surgical residency. She has participated in medical service and ophthalmological trips to South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Columbia, South East Asia, India and Bolivia. She moved to Victoria in 2005 and has been caring for patients here ever since.
As Vancouver Island’s demographic continues to age the demand for eye care is going to greatly increase. The Victoria Eye center was built anticipating this shift and they are prepared to ramp up care to meet the need. They have capacity for eight doctors, maybe more as many split their time with the hospital.
Collaborating with different eye specialists in one center, Dr. Dam explains, allows them to share expertise, consultations, and the cost of cutting edge equipment. Staying current with the latest technological advancements is far from cheap, Dr. Dam said, but they invest in whatever will make procedures more efficient, effective, and pain-free for their patients. Victoria Eye has been a multi-million dollar project that is ongoing as continues to invest in new technologies to optimize patient care.
Some types of extended benefits cover surgeries done at their center, but some people also chose to pay out of pocket for the latest and greatest. The Symfony Extended Range lens can cost a few thousand dollars per eye, but Dr. Dam says many people are willing to invest in the new technology because unlike traditional multifocal lenses it allows you to focus within near, intermediate and distance ranges, it doesn’t cause halos or glare, and is especially good for patients with presbyopia.
Whatever patient’s condition or ability to pay privately, Dr. Dam and her colleagues aim to provide Victoria with the best possible eye care. They have the capacity to treat urgent issues right away, vision surgeries can be done within a few weeks, and the waitlist for the treatment of less serious chronic conditions is rarely longer than a few months.
At the end of the tour we head back through the main hall and stop to look at the incredible series of paintings hanging along the wall. The artists are students from local schools, Dr. Dam tells us. I have no doubt their work will be admired and appreciated by everyone who walks through that hall, but even more so by patients with renewed vision.
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March 16, 2018