Retinal detachment - patient story

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On what was otherwise an ordinary Tuesday morning earlier this year, Linda Umbers noticed something unusual in her vision.

“It was as if I was looking through a drop of water in my left eye. I had no pain or discomfort, but it definitely seemed strange, and it had appeared quite suddenly, so I thought I’d better get it checked out.”

Her optometrist performed a scan and referred Linda to St George’s Eye Care on the Thursday, to establish the cause of the changes. At 8.30 am on Friday Linda was seen by Consultant Ophthalmologist Dr Oliver Comyn, who diagnosed a detached retina.

By 11.30 am, Linda was in theatre having a day-stay procedure called a vitrectomy to fix the detachment.

“By the time all the tests were done, and I’d had the situation explained to me, they’d already organised a theatre and pulled a team together to do the operation,” Linda says.

“I’m just blown away by how quickly it was all arranged and ready to go. From arriving that morning not knowing what was wrong, to being out of theatre at lunchtime and waiting for my husband to come and pick me up – it was just amazing.”

Linda, who works as a rehabilitation nurse for Canterbury District Health Board, says the St George’s Eye Care team were “fantastic” in supporting her through the unexpected news that she needed urgent surgery.

“I was so impressed by everyone I met at St George’s, including Dr Comyn, the nurses and the reception staff. Having arrived there with no idea I’d be having an operation three hours later, the team were so reassuring and explained everything, so I felt comfortable the whole way through.”

Linda has completed her follow-up appointment at Eye Care, “I’ve got so much admiration for the St George’s team for how quickly and expertly they handled everything.”

A retinal detachment occurs when the retina (the thin, light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye) comes away from its normal position. If untreated, a detached retina can cause blindness, so it’s very important to address it quickly, says Dr Comyn.

There are several symptoms which can be caused by a retinal detachment. “The classic symptom of a detached retina is a shadow partially obscuring the vision, which might be accompanied by flashing lights or floaters,” he says.

“Sometimes when the detachment involves the central part of the retina (the macula), the main symptom is blurred vision. This can be a really severe reduction in vision or just a mild to moderate blur without noticing a shadow.”

A vitrectomy is a microsurgical procedure that is routinely performed by Dr Comyn at St George’s Eye Care. During the procedure, the vitreous (the clear jelly inside the eye) is removed to allow access to the retina, which is reattached using air and fixed down with laser or cryotherapy (freezing).  At the end of the procedure, the eye is left filled with a gas or oil to hold the retina in place.

The modern vitreoretinal surgical techniques used at St George’s Eye Care employ small gauge instruments, meaning a vitrectomy can be carried out under local anaesthetic, often not even requiring any stitches. Patients are usually quite comfortable during the procedure, with most able to return home soon afterwards.

At St George’s, the Eye Care team is well equipped to be highly responsive to urgent referrals for retinal detachments, Dr Comyn says.

“We have an excellent team and leading-edge facilities here at Eye Care, which enables us to perform high-quality surgical procedures on an urgent basis. Our patients benefit from access to our modern, well equipped operating theatres, and the fantastic team in the day surgery unit, which we can access very quickly if required.”

Dr Comyn, who specialises in retinal and cataract surgery, works alongside Dr Paul Baddeley, making up the St George’s Eye Care’s team of two full time ophthalmologists. Dr Comyn and Dr Baddeley are highly experienced in intraocular surgery, having performed thousands of successful procedures.

Innovations including injectable intraocular lens technology, which allows smaller incisions, are used routinely in several procedures at Eye Care, all with the aim of minimising the inconvenience and maximising the speed of rehabilitation for patients undergoing eye surgery.

“The state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities at St George’s are a pleasure to work in and they provide a fantastic environment for patient care,” says Dr Comyn.

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