Dr.  Robert Devenyi
Dr. Robert Devenyi, co-director of the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, has pioneed a new treatment for vision-saving vitrectomies. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

It typically starts with a small, dark spot, light flashes or blurred vision at the corner of one's peripheral vision. The symptoms typically intensify and spread, sometimes even emerging in multiple parts of one eye – or both. 

It's a frightening condition known as a retinal detachment, when the retina – which sits at the back of the eye and captures light much like camera film, before triggering nerve impulses that create an image for the brain to process – detaches from the eyeball due to small tears or holes, or due to a separation of the vitreous, a gel-like fluid inside the eye.

Phil Rauch knows these symptoms all too well. Since 2013, the 55-year-old production manager from North Bay, Ont., has experienced five separate retinal detachments in multiple areas of each of his eyes.

"The very first time it caught me off guard because I started seeing a dark spot on my eye; it was like having something on the side of your nose, but nothing was there," he recalls.

According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, about half of the population experience vitreous separation by age 50. Nearsightedness, trauma, a family history of retinal detachment and eye diseases, tumours or diabetes can all cause a detachment.

The condition occurs in roughly one person out of every 10,000 in the general population, but is far more common following cataract surgery, when that rate jumps dramatically to one in 100 patients. The condition will eventually lead to blindness, if untreated.

Phil had no idea what was happening the first time he experienced his symptoms. A retinal detachment can permanently impair vision in a matter of days. Indeed, Phil has lost some vision in his left eye, simply because he was unaware of the symptoms.

"I left it for a day before I saw my optometrist, and they told me I had a retinal detachment. They sent me to Toronto right away, to start the process."

According to Dr. Robert Devenyi, a clinician investigator at the Krembil Research Institute and co-director of the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute – and the doctor who performed Phil's surgeries – that process is called a vitrectomy, a procedure in which the vitreous jelly is removed from a patient's affected eye. In its place, a liquid called perfluorocarbon is injected.


Krembil Vision Magazine 

The Krembil Research Institute and the Globe and Mail have teamed up for a special content project designed to highlight the tremendous accomplishments of our scientists and research programs at Krembil. The first of three magazines in this series looked at the brain and spine program and was released in the spring. A second magazine highlighting the vision program is now available online and a the third in the series will explore the arthritis program later this year.

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