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Stelth Ng is eternally grateful to his parents for opening his eyes to the world of music through the introduction of piano lessons at the age of four. That's because by the time Stelth turned 12 his outlook on the world began to dim – considerably and literally.
"I had no family history of vision loss. Then all of a sudden I started to develop vision issues," says Stelth, who is one of the more than 500,000 Canadians who live with significant vision health issues. "It was because I began to lose my vision that I made the decision to pursue a career in music.
"I figured if I might be blind one day, at the very least I'd be able to play and perform music."
Stelth, now 26, is sharing his story with UHN News to help highlight Vision Health Month – an annual event each May that promotes vision health and education among Canadians – and in order to draw attention to the tremendous work of the clinicians and researchers at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH).
Stelth is intimately familiar with the vision program at UHN. Over the course of the last decade, he has undergone more than a dozen surgeries and procedures to address cataracts, retinal detachments, corneal swelling, glaucoma and the dislocation of his intraocular lenses.
"They are amazing. Period. Whenever something's wrong, I have the confidence to know that when I step into the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute they are going to take care of me," says Stelth. "I have had my whole eyeball basically operated on – you name it, I've had the procedure done."
Over the years, as the health of his eyes deteriorated, Stelth put his heart and soul into his music. After graduating from the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, he moved to Ottawa to study with the concert master of the National Arts Centre Orchestra before landing a regular position as a violinist with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
Today, Stelth, who is blind in the right eye, is extremely appreciative to the many clinicians who helped save the sight in his left eye, specifically Dr. Graham Trope, Dr. Allan Slomovic and Dr. Wai-Ching Lam.
On the music front, Stelth now works locally as a ballet accompanist and performs regularly with The Grigori String Quartet, an ensemble that includes two violins, one viola and one cello. The group is currently developing a music outreach program, which includes a concert series for the visually impaired. The quartet will perform in the atrium at TWH tomorrow as part of Vision Health Month activities at UHN.
"I want to take patients to a different place, maybe relieve their suffering a little bit, introduce them to something new; the power of music," says Stelth. "When you're sick, the only thing you can think about is that you're sick.'"
Stelth hopes to expand the initiative in the future in order to bring live music to other patients and programs across UHN.
"Music for me is an escape but also a world of open possibilities regardless of whether I can see or not. I want people who are blind, especially children, to know that there is a world of possibilities out there for them. If you are blind, you can still be an artist; you can be a musician … that realization can be life-changing for anyone struggling with vision loss."
Live Music at TWH
Stelth Ng brings The Grigori String Quartet to perform an hour-long recital featuring works by Haydn, Dvorak, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Debussy, and Canadian composer Laura Sgroi to Toronto Western tomorrow,
Tuesday May 16. The live performance will take place in the atrium between noon to 1 p.m.