Behind the Scenes photographs and footage screenshots of production, “Blade”
Pianist & Figure Skater, Vincent Ip
Filmed: December 2017 in Toronto, Ontario
Production Release: Coming Soon
YouTube Video Link: Blade - Official
Vimeo Video Link: Blade - HD
Nocturne No. 20 in C Sharp Minor - Frederic Chopin
Audio Recording & Mixing
Figure Skating & Choreography:
Assistant Camera & Behind the Scenes Footage
Directed, Produced, & Edited by Stelth Ng
My Story With Vision Loss
Struggling with vision loss has always been a reality for me since my teenage years. Little did I know that my adolescent years would be filled with regular visits to the emergency room and periods of blindness that reshaped all my priorities and set the way for my current career path today.
To whomever is reading this: If you or someone you know/loved one is struggling with vision loss or ocular conditions, please feel free to Reach Out to me!
I am always more than happy to lend an ear, share my personal experiences, and give Ocular Resources.
As a past and current patient of The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto SickKids Hospital, Scarborough Low Vision Centre, Credit Valley Hospital, Prism Eye Institute, Webb Ocular Prosthetics, and The Toronto Western Hospital's Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, I've been fortunate to receive care from the best ophthalmologists and eye specialists in the country.
MY STORY: CONTENTS
Cataract Surgeries: Dr Andrew Budning
Intraocular Lens (IOL) Dislocations & Iris-Claw Artisan Implants: Dr Ike Ahmed
Retinal Detachments: Vitrectomy and Scleral Buckle Procedures: Dr Wai-Ching Lam
Post-Vitrectomy Recovery: Period of Blindness & Musical Inspiration
Corneal Transplant: Dr Allan Slomovic
Diagnosis: The Beginning
When I was 12 years old, during a routine annual eye exam, I was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes. This was a shock to my entire family as none of my relatives or immediate family had any history of ocular conditions or vision loss. Even for myself, I was born with perfect 20/20 vision and never wore any glasses growing up. This sudden diagnosis of cataracts saw the gradual loss of my visual acuity. Right at the transition into junior high school (Grade 7 at the time, when I was 13 years old), I struggled to walk around the school hallways; to meet new friends and participate in any sports. Arrangements had to be made not only in the classroom to sit me closer to the blackboard, but also in transportation, where a special school bus had to pick me up and drive me right to my door. Winter seasons proved especially difficult, as the snow on the ground blended with the opaque and hazy vision my cataracts caused.
To this day, I remain grateful to the teachers who spent hours after school tutoring me and catching me up on subjects, as well as the many supportive friends who helped me jot down notes, photocopy textbooks, and guide me through hours of assignments - taking their own time out of the classroom to help me revise homework and explanations in class that I had missed because of hospital visits or absences.
Cataract Surgeries: Dr Andrew Budning
My regular eye appointments and eventual cataract surgeries were performed by paediatric ophthalmologist, Dr Andrew Budning, of the Toronto SickKids Hospital. It always inspired me just how committed Dr Budning was to his patients. He would arrive at his clinic every morning shortly before 7 AM, while a long line of roughly 15-20 patients (usually all children with patches over their eyes from operations the previous day) waited outside his office. Four hours later, he would dash out his office and rush to the hospital to see more patients and prepare for his usual round of surgeries. Regular 6 AM visits to the eye clinic, injections into my eyes, as well as consistent eye drops and medication resulted not only in an outpouring of worry and stress from myself, but from my parents as well; all of which, regularly impacted my studies at school, contributed to my consistent insomnia, and constantly reminded me of an abnormal transitional teenage period of my life.
I was lucky to receive successful cataract treatment in 2004 and 2005, just when I was nearing my 14th year. At the time of course, I really had no idea how (relatively) simple a cataract procedure was. All I had to do was show up to the hospital, undergo anaesthesia, take care of my operated eye, and return to the doctor’s the following morning. I had no idea outside my own little bubble - being fortunate enough to live in Canada where all those medical costs are covered: including eye drops, emergency visits, doctor's appointments, post-operation check-ups and medication - that cataracts is in fact the leading cause of blindness in the world. How crazy is that! To know that there are millions of people out there who are just a simple one-hour operation away from being able to regain their vision!
Dr Andrew Budning
For those who are unaware of the prognosis and details of a cataract, in definition, the natural intra-ocular lenses that healthy babies are born with can harden and lose their transparency, much like a fogged up windshield on a car, thus hindering the ability for clear sight. The strange thing was that the doctors had no idea why I had developed cataracts at such a young age. Usually cataract patients average around 65 years of age, and the condition is regularly more prevalent in the senior population.
*Important Symptoms to Note for Cataracts*
1. Blurry Vision
2. Foggy, white haze that takes over the visual field
3. Halo, rainbow-like effect surrounding light sources at night
4. Decreased Night Vision
5. Decreased Visual Acuity
6. Increased Sensitivity to Light
7. Painless Symptoms
(Symptoms are usually gradual)
My cataract procedures were successful in replacing my old, opaque natural IOL’s with new and clear silicone ones through a really cool process called phacoemulsification where the defected IOL is treated with ultrasonic waves and dissolved, after which it is vacuumed out of the eye and replaced with the new self-folding, artificial IOL. The clear and new transparent lens is ultimately positioned neatly behind the iris and the anterior chamber of the eye.
*See image below*
The front and intersected view of how a normal eye and a cataract diagnosis looks differently from each other. *see image below*
An example of what normal vision looks like, and the clouded 'foggy-windshield' experience a cataract patient has to deal with.
*see image below*
What night vision looks like to a cataract patient - note the 'halo-like' effect of artificial light sources and the disruption of clear visual acuity. *see image below*
To Read More about Cataract Surgery Prognosis and Diagnosis, Follow this Link:
Proceeding the successful cataract procedures, my visual acuity skyrocketed to 20/30 - a stark contrast from the 20/200 legally blind rating I had endured for the preceding two years. It was a breathtaking experience taking my eyepatch off the morning after the surgery in the ophthalmologist's office; seeing things in detail and colour after such a long period in a blurry world. I was reassured that as long as I maintained good care to my eye and physical health, that there shouldn't be too much concern with my vision.
Intraocular Lens (IOL) Dislocations & Iris-Claw Artisan Implants: Dr Ike Ahmed
Though the cataract operations were successful, they were far from the end of my ocular worries. In fact, they had just started.
A year following my cataract surgeries, complications with my artificial intra-ocular lenses arose. At one point after waking up, I found my vision to be distorted, with a jelly-like substance moving around inside, and realized that I had a dislocated lens inside my eye. This would be the first of many intra-ocular dislocations to happen within the next several years.At no clear reason to my ophthalmologists who treated me at the time, my IOL in both eyes continuously struggled to stay in place.
A healthy and correctly positioned IOL serves the purpose of focusing light on the back of the eye to the retina, which then transmits electrical signals through the optic nerve and to the brain, where this information is processed and translated into images. With my IOL out of place, everything I saw out of my eyes was out of focus, again bringing me back to a legally blind visual acuity of 20/200 during this period.
This dislocation happened several times in both eyes - each time resulting in an operation to surgically reposition the lenses, until a visit to Dr Ike Ahmed, who recommended a state of the art Artisan Iris-Clip-On IOL which was to be a hopeful solution. Numerous visits and procedures at the Prism Eye Institute with Dr Ahmed proved that even the Artisan lenses were no good for my condition, ultimately resulting in the complete removal of all IOL in my eyes, and leaving them both aphakic, or in other words, without any internal lenses. As a result, I have since worn extremely high prescription eye glasses to compensate for the lack of IOL.
Dr Ike Ahmed
An example of an artificial, silicone intra-ocular lens that would be implanted during a common cataract procedure. Size comparison to a finger is shown for reference. Common materials used for intra-ocular lenses include silicone and acrylic, since both share the common features of softness, and versatility in folding capability; allowing the lens to be inserted into the eye through a smaller surgical incision.
An example of the iris-claw Artisan Intra-ocular Implant, commonly used to solve complications with dislocated IOL. *see image below*
Retinal Detachments: Vitrectomy and Scleral Buckle Procedures: Dr Wai-Ching Lam
The period following my cataract and IOL procedures with Dr Ahmed were without a doubt the most difficult of my ocular struggles to date. When I was in my tenth grade of high school - the year 2007, at 16 years old, I had my first retinal detachment. During a morning school business trip, I suddenly saw flashes of light and distorted colours in my peripheral vision. It was absolutely terrifying, as I had no idea what could be causing such a drastic change in my vision. At the time, I didn't know that it was my retina slowly detaching, which is considered a serious medical emergency. I distinctively remember telling a high school teacher about my sudden vision changes and having to go straight to the hospital to get it checked out.
That was the first time I stepped foot into Toronto Western Hospital. Upon seeing my first cataract surgeon, Dr Budning, he informed me of my retinal problem and advised me to immediately go into the emergency room. After the drive and almost a six hour wait at Toronto Western Hospital's Ophthalmology Department - more commonly known as The Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute, I was seen by Dr Wai-Ching Lam, the then vitreoretinal specialist of the department at TWH.
Dr Wai-Ching Lam
There are several ways to treat a retinal detachment, all of which usually involve the injection of a dissolving gas bubble in the eye. For my first retinal detachment then, I was given immediate treatment in the ophthalmology office, without even going under general anaesthesia. An injection into my eye successfully installed a gas bubble with the main purpose of pushing the retina back into place. The retina is somewhat comparable to a thin wallpaper-like layer of cells, which plays a critical role in visual acuity and health. Because of the natural vitreous jelly that fills a healthy eye, once a retina starts detaching, natural distribution of the vitreous will further contribute to continuous detaching, causing the retina to eventually come completely apart if not immediately treated; at which point, hope for vision restoration is slim.
Side view of a detached retina.
What I was told at the time, was that I had made the best decision to go to the hospital instantly upon seeing visual changes. I found out then that because I had received cataract surgery at such a young age, the risk for a retinal detachment increases because of the invasive surgical procedure, and tendency for the vitreous to pull on the retina over time. In addition, the Artisan Lens Implant procedure that I had performed several times actually increases the risk for further retinal detachments to happen by 0.6%! I guess the odds really weren't in my favour then.
After receiving the gas bubble injection into my eye, I was instructed to keep my head tilted at a 45 degree angle for two weeks. This was so that the bubble would float at the correct angle and be positioned correctly to deal with the retinal hole. The following appointment was made to receive local laser treatment that would reattach the retina once it had been repositioned by the gas bubble. A similar analogy to retinal detachment treatment would be comparable to pushing a drooping wallpaper back into place and glueing it back onto the wall.
I was fortunate and thankful for Dr Lam's immediate treatment of my retinal tear, which seemed like a big deal at the time and could have ended much worse. For the following years however, several more retinal tears and detachments would come back to haunt me, which led to additional and progressively more serious surgical procedures. To date, I have had approximately five retinal detachments in both eyes, which contributed to all the emergency room visits, school absences, and performance & competition cancellations I had to endure to receive ocular treatment, each time requiring 3-4 months to fully recover.
The year following my initial successful retinal detachment diagnosis and treatment came the detachment of the retina in the other eye. This time, I recognized the symptoms immediately and knew what was happening, although the stress and worry did not improve, given my knowledge of how severe a retinal detachment is.
*Important Symptoms to Note for a Retinal Detachment*
The symptoms I had been so familiar with in the case of retinal detachments include:
1. Loss of peripheral vision
2. Sudden appearance of numerous floaters in the eye (translucent dots that float in the field of vision)
3. A curtain-like effect where it seems like a layer of my vision was drooping/falling down
4. Distorted colours and shapes, particularly when looking from left to right, and up & down
6. Painless Symptoms
(Symptoms are usually sudden and immediate, with gradual vision loss as the detachment progresses)
*This was an important one, and usually a telltale sign of a retinal detachment. After suffering from several retinal detachments, I always knew when I had a genuine detachment if there was an overwhelming presence of flashing lights. I would usually turn off all the lights, shut myself in a completely dark room and look around with my eye. Starting from the left corner, to the top right, and subsequently moving my eyeball around from opposite ends and corners. If there were appearances of continuous, repetitive flashing, I knew something was wrong, especially since I had eliminated all external light sources, yet still saw flashing.*
Examples of Retinal Detachment Symptoms
This second retinal detachment in my other eye was not as simple as the first. For some reason, this particular tear had progressed faster, and required more serious treatment than a local injection. I was put under general anaesthesia the very next morning after confirmation of a detachment. Usually during a routine retinal check-up, the ophthalmologist will dilate the eyes of the patient so that their pupils enlarge. This makes it easier for the doctor to view the back of the eye through a microscope in order to obtain a clear view of the optic nerve and retina. Dr Lam routinely used an eye and orbit ultrasound in order to see immediate results of my retina in detail. This was the preferred method, especially because of how small my pupils were, even after having received dilating drops.
My second retinal detachment surgery resulted in a vitrectomy, where the vitreous gel inside the eyeball is completely removed. The vitreous serves no official or known functional purpose to the eye or vision, and in order to decrease the chances of future retinal detachments, as well as gain better access to the back of the eye, the vitrectomy was performed.
Although the retinal procedure was successful, this surgery that I had received in my eleventh year of high school - when I was 17 years old, and busy with music competitions and school work - resulted in complications with my cornea. Following the vitrectomy and reattachment procedure, I was diagnosed in that eye with corneal edema. In other words, the trauma from numerous surgeries, in addition to infection and possible inflammation with my eye, resulted in the hardening and fogging up of my cornea.
It was after this period when I was in Grade 11, that I decided to quit playing the piano. Since I was four years old, I had taken the piano very seriously, hoping to become a professional player one day. In addition to 2-3 regular lessons per week, it was not unusual for my mom to drive me home from school at lunchtime, eat lunch in the car, and cram in an extra piano lesson, before rushing back to school for the rest of the afternoon. I was fortunate to play with several orchestras when I was a teenager and not only accompany my sister at the Canadian National Music Competitions, but also compete as a soloist myself. When I lost the vision in one of my eyes due to corneal edema, I no longer had any peripheral vision or depth perception. This made it exceedingly difficult to play the piano and the technically demanding pieces I had once breezed through with good eyesight. Reading music and learning new pieces also proved to be a challenge, and I had endless stacks of enlarged sheet music always piling up on my piano whenever I was learning a new piece. I decided then that I would take the violin seriously and give it a shot. While challenging piano pieces required hours of sight-reading on my part, due to the heavy textures (sometimes there would be 4-8 musical lines to play at once), violin music was much easier to sightread for me, and I didn’t have to look to find the notes.
It was at this point, when I was still recovering from my retinal detachment procedures and dissipating gas bubble, that I was referred to, and seen by TWH's Corneal Specialist, Dr Allan Slomovic.
Following the corneal edema diagnosis came a two year wait for a suitable cornea donor graft to become available before the eventual corneal transplant surgery. In 2008 - my last year of high school, as I was busy preparing for University applications, auditions, music competitions, and the heavy workload at school, I had yet another retinal detachment in my good eye; the other had a swollen cornea, which resulted in a legally blind acuity rating. I only saw faded colours and distorted light in that eye because of the defective cornea.
This retinal detachment procedure and recovery was the hardest period of my ocular struggles to date. Dr Lam again performed the reattachment procedure, in addition to a vitrectomy and scleral buckle belt. The installation of the scleral belt meant a silicone band was stitched onto the outer perimeter of my eyeball, squeezing the eye and helping prevent additional retinal detachments in the future. This, along with laser treatment and a gas bubble injected into my eye, was one of the biggest surgeries I’ve received for my eyes. I remember not only having a myriad of eye drops to help prevent post-surgery infection, but also having to take oral painkillers as strong as morphine in order to ease the pain of my eye and the overwhelming headaches that accompanied the many sleepless nights. I distinctively recall using up several tissue boxes to wipe my eyes which continued to periodically discharge blood following the procedure.
This period following my scleral buckle-vitrectomy procedure was when I experienced total vision loss for three months. As the gas bubble in my recently operated eye blocked all light from reaching my optic nerve, my other eye was blind from the swollen cornea. For the first time in my life, I could not see well enough to dress myself, feed myself, or do any considerably normal activities. When I woke up from what little sleep I did get, I would often not realize I was awake, for the vivid images of my constant dreams and nightmares were horrifyingly similar to my distorted vision when I was awake and couldn’t see. I remember periods of hopelessness and episodes of depression where I refused to eat, for every minute that I could not read, study, go out, or even watch TV, was only accompanied by my worries of making it into my preferred University programs the following year, as well as wondering if I would ever get my full vision back.
Though it was one of the toughest moments I've been through, my procedure in late 2008 was a period I often look back upon with gratitude. Had circumstances been different; if I had not received timely treatment, or gotten all the support I did, the situation could have been much worse for me. As the next few years of University passed by, mainly with concerns of my swollen cornea and transplant surgery, the summer of 2011 came the last of my retinal detachments, again in the eye with the defective cornea.
At that time, I was very lucky to have received a successful cornea transplant, which seemed to be in healthy shape. The cornea itself had started to clear and blend with my eye, although my visual acuity never recovered, I was without any pain or discomfort. It was during the beginning of the summer that year that I had applied and planned on attending the Chautauqua Institution. My then violin professor - the late Jacques Israelievitch - had highly recommended I attend the Institution during the summer, where he taught. But it was because of the last retinal detachment that came in 2011, that resulted not only in the cancellation of my summer plans, but to the diagnosis of glaucoma.
Post-Vitrectomy Recovery: Period of Blindness & Musical Inspiration
The Winter of 2008 saw the recovery period of a retinal detachment surgery and a swollen cornea in my other eye, resulting in three months of total blindness. While this dreadfully painful period was hard to endure, it did not come without a positive side. Suddenly, I had a lot of time to think, to reflect on what was truly important to me, and to learn to let go of what was beyond my control. I had countless hours to listen to music, revisit some of my favourite symphonies and violin concerti, as well as listen to podcasts, and hear the reassuring voices of my many loving and supportive friends over the phone. During those three months, I must have spent over 200 hours talking on the phone with some of my best friends, who offered to visit, encouraged me, and caught me up on school work and lectures I had missed in class. To this day, I remain in good touch with these people, and owe them so much for holding my hand through one of the toughest moments I’ve yet endured. Were it not for their mental, emotional, and academic support, as well as their genuine friendship, my recovery during that period would have been much tougher.
Interestingly enough, this period of blindness that occurred was also one of the most inspiring moments of my musical education. For the majority of my musical upbringing, I had been fortunate enough to learn musical works by reading sheet music. Learning to translate musical notation to musical sounds was something I had been trained since a very young age to do. But December of 2008 saw the need for me to learn the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in time for upcoming auditions and competitions I had signed up for. At the time of my surgery, I had only just began learning the piece, and knew that if I took another 3 months off without practicing while I recovered, not only would I be unprepared for my auditions, but I would also lose the dexterity of my fingers from not having regularly practiced.
First Two Pages of the Well-known Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
I decided during my recovery period that I was going to learn the repertoire by ear. Focusing my attention and thoughts on the progress of learning the Tchaikovsky Concerto distracted me from all the negative thoughts that were so easy to think about. In addition, it gave me the chance to learn to play my violin without having to see. While instruments like the guitar have frets, and playing the piano (especially technically challenging pieces) requires sight to help, the violin's fingerboard mostly depends on trained muscle memory and feeling your way around to find the right notes. I found out that it was totally feasible to practice the violin with my eyes closed/without being able to see as a result of recovering from my surgery.
This recording of violinist, Jascha Heifetz, was the one that motivated and inspired me to learn the Concerto in 2008.
Learning to practice the violin without my eyesight was an incredible experience. While I was usually focussed on all the visual instructions on a musical score, all of a sudden, I was able to focus 100% of my attention purely on how something sounded.
As musicians, we're naturally trained to constantly be criticizing ourselves and reflecting on what we're doing; to think about how a physical movement can contribute to the successful execution of an auditory result and to experiment with different technical movements in order to achieve the ideal result of a sound that would be respectful of a certain composer's instructions.
When I was able to direct my attention away from what I was looking at and instead focus on listening, I found that it was easier for me to focus on what I was working on. Listening with intention and clarity was something that I thought I was always doing, but didn't truly realize the difference it would make until I was forced to close my eyes and shut out the visual noise. You know when someone advises you to 'really listen"? Whether it's during a conversation, to another person, or for a musical score, there's quite a distinct difference between being on 'auto-mode', as opposed to concentrating on what you're zoning in on. A good example would be when one attends a crowded party, and through the sea of random conversations and noise, to be able to deliberately pick up on the frequency of one particular person or ongoing conversation.
What was fascinating for me during that period was not only the new-found focus I had when listening, but the gradual appearance of mental images that occurred when I started practicing. Although I could not see through my eyes, the musical phrases that I practiced slowly formed shapes and lines inside my head. I suddenly became much less concerned with how I was technically going to execute a passage or articulation, and instead started visualizing the character of the notes. What did a long, sustained note mean? Why were there short, abrupt notes here, and at this particular time? How long was the phrase, and what could I do to sustain the line?
Once I regained my vision, I started noticing sounds and images I once took for granted. For instance, when walking through an intersection on a busy street, one is usually accustomed to focusing on all the visual information: looking at all different directions in order to prevent being hit by a passing vehicle! But we usually tune out all the 'dead noise' of cars running by, unless a startling horn or ambulance out of nowhere alerts our attention and makes us jump. But what does a busy city intersection feel like to a blind person? What if we were to close our eyes when walking through the city? (I am not recommending this by the way; and am not responsible for any injuries as a result of reading this post!) Would we start to notice our own footsteps more? Perhaps the hurried rustling of fabric on the clothing of pedestrians passing by; the clink of boots on steel grates; the low-frequency vibrations of a passing trunk, or even the whistle of the wind. This all became so painfully aware to me when I could not see, and relied on all the auditory information around me. After I regained my sight, I noticed all this information around me that I once took for granted.
The same concept was apparent when I revisited old movies. I noticed how the difference in colour choices and music affected the mood and atmosphere - and ultimately the emotion and meaning - of a particular movie scene. Pixar and Disney films have been consistently doing this exceedingly well for so many years. As an example, one can see the vast colour changes associated with the different emotions from the opening scene of Up (2009):
What colours and emotions are present here?
(novelty, warmth, curiosity, closeness)
Scene with Carl & Ellie:
(bright, open, warm, comfortable, intimate, pleasant)
How does this screenshot/scene contrast with the next one?
(feelings of reassurance, new beginnings, bright, clear, and welcoming colours)
This scene is powerful for a reason, and contrasts effectively with the preceding ones:
(despair, sadness, hopelessness, uncertainty, coldness)
Note of course, the body language not only of Ellie, but of the doctor as well. Notice the height difference of the doctor and the couple (authority), how Ellie is facing the doctor (opposition), and how Carl is deliberately positioned 'behind her', backing her up.
While in this scene, we can feel the warmth and closeness between the couple.
Why are the walls pink? How does this contrast with their aged, grey hair?
How about the faded colours of the once bright crayons on Ellie's desk?
Not much explanation needed here...again the recurring pinkish-red colours are paired with the shadows and black corners of the church.
How much light is coming in from the windows?
How different are the colours of the balloons from the beginning?
*Secondary Note*: Now observe again at the previous four photos and scenes.
Any chance you noticed that Ellie is always on the left?
Did you catch that the first time you saw it?
The majority of modern languages are read from left to right, with the exception of eight main ones, such as Arabic, which are read from right to left.
What does this arrangement and placement represent in terms of how important Ellie is to the viewer, and Carl? Notice in the bottom scene that now Ellie is 'literally out of the picture', Carl is positioned clearly on the left.
The 2015 Film, Inside Out, is yet another great example of associated colour changes and moods.
We often hear phrases like:
"you look blue; green with envy, seeing red, and being tickled pink"
Similarly, when we see the following images, do we hear and recollect sad, emotional music?
Or does listening to "Hakuna Matata" inversely trigger us to think of these pictures?
Notice the contrasting cool-blue and warm colours from the preceding photo and this one:
How hilarious would it be to put on "You've Got a Friend In Me" from Toy Story (1995) to this scene of Darth Vader?
Why was this scene shot with suppressed lighting, fog, and menacing, dark colours?
This constant interplay with music and visual images and colours is something that filmmakers have been known to take advantage of for many years. As well, I would find out several years later upon attending a performance by Charlotte Ballet at the Chautauqua Institution, the type of visualization with music I had experienced are what choreographers and dancers think of all the time. The mental imagery associated with musical works had all started at that point in 2009, even though I didn't realize it at the time. This exposure to ballet and working with students of the dance school for the choreographic workshops has led to the current collaborative work I do today with dance, music, and film.
Corneal Transplant: Dr Allan Slomovic
The third retinal detachment procedure I received was the primary cause of a damaged cornea, where the clear, front part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil became cloudy and opaque. I was referred to TWH's corneal specialist, Dr Allan Slomovic, who diagnosed me with corneal edema and placed me on the waiting list for a suitable corneal transplant.
The two-year long wait for a transplant came to an end when I was notified that there had been an availability in a suitable corneal graft. While I had been waiting for this to happen, my vision in that eye was consistently 20/400 - worse than my cataract visual acuity. It was difficult for me to see how many fingers someone was holding up if it were mere centimetres from my face. During that period, I only saw very bright halo-filled lights, and distorted colours out of my eye.
Dr Allan Slomovic
Corneal transplant surgery, otherwise known as keratoplasty, required the removal of my damaged cornea, which was replaced with the healthy tissue. A cookie-cutter tool is used to remove the affected area, and the new tissue was sewn into place with sutures. This process is demonstrated in the images below:
The following video demonstrates how a corneal transplant procedure unfolds, as well as the steps the surgeon would make to treat the eye.
Although I was fortunate to have a successful corneal transplant surgery done, the vision in that affected eye never returned. Following the surgery, I was seen multiple times over the course of several months to ensure that my intra-ocular pressure and new corneal graft were all doing well. I was also on constant medication in order to prevent the newly sewn graft from become infected or rejected. Once the stitches were removed half a year later, the corneal graft had naturally sealed itself onto my eye. It wasn't until a few years later with the presentation of yet another retinal detachment, that the healthy corneal graft became damaged once again from a vitrectomy procedure that was performed.
Glaucoma: Dr Graham Trope
The last retinal detachment procedure I had to date caused my eye to suffer from high intra-ocular pressure from the trauma. Since then, I have been monitored closely and treated several times by Glaucoma Specialist, Dr Graham Trope.
Usually in a health eye, normal eye pressure - which is measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) - ranges from 12-22. My eye suffering from glaucoma had a consistent average reading of 35-40 mm Hg, resulting in frequent debilitating headaches, nausea, and a bloodshot eye. When high eye pressure is left untreated, the glaucoma inside the eye will cause irreparable damage to the optic nerve, the critically important part of the back of the eye that transmits signals to the brain.
While cataracts is the leading cause of blindness, glaucoma remains to be the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world, as there is no known cure for it as of yet. Since 2011, I have had numerous laser surgeries, including very potent eyedrops, as well as oral medication to tackle my glaucoma. I consider myself so lucky to have been a patient of Dr Trope; for his care, professionalism, and pleasantness has been second to none. Though I was treated several times for my glaucoma, my sick eye slowly deteriorated to the point where I have currently completely lost my vision, due to the rejected corneal graft, and damage to my retina.
*Important Symptoms to Note for Glaucoma*
1. Blurry or hazy vision
2. Gradual loss of peripheral vision (resulting in tunnel vision)
3. Rainbow-coloured halos/circles around light sources
4. Headaches, migraines, and eye pain
5. Nausea or Vomiting
6. Decrease in Visual Acuity
Dr Graham Trope
Vision & Eye Statistics
Did you know that over 45 million people in the world are blind? With over 246 million globally who suffer from low vision. How about the fact that you blink about 12 times every minute, and that 80% of vision problems worldwide are avoidable and curable?
If you've ever been interested in some fun facts or vision trivia, here are some statistics and facts you may not have known!
My Work Today
If you've made it this far, thank you for taking the time and energy to read about my story! Even reflecting back, it has definitely been quite an 'eye-opening' journey (I'm sorry, I just had to) for me, and every day I put on my glasses to read, I am reminded of how fortunate I am for incredible doctors, free healthcare, cutting-edge technology, and supportive friends and family. I am also reminded that I may very well lose the rest of my vision soon, having one healthy eye left, and that there are millions of blind and visually impaired children and adults out there alike, who suffer from vision loss every day.
Thus, these collective experiences have left me grateful, inspired, and motivated to do what I can every day. I may very well lose my vision tomorrow, or before I reach 30. This realization has propelled me to pour all my energy and time into creating visualizations of music; connecting artists together to make productions, exploring my passion with photography and ballet, reach out to visually impaired children in hopes of inspiring them with music, as well as a new-found appreciation for the philanthropy and phenomenal support that our hospitals need in order to change the lives of patients like me.
Ballet & Choreographic Film Productions
My exposure to ballet performances at The Chautauqua Institution has propelled me to work in creating more choreographed works to music. I've noticed that visualizing choreography, whether you're a musician or a dancer, adds an additional dimension and perspective to the musical work one is familiarizing themselves with. In addition to creating something beautiful, the visualization of music has a deep connection to me from when I lost my vision in high school.
It is my hope that by filming and connecting dancers and musicians together - something that doesn't occur often, due to the demanding and busy schedules of the two art-forms - that unique productions will be created and immortalized through the medium of film. If even one person who sees these films/dance videos are inspired by music, dance, or cinematography, then I personally feel that I would be making a difference.
Take a look at my current work with ballet, choreography, music and film here:
CNIB: Bringing Music to the Visually Impaired
The period after my first vitrectomy and scleral buckle procedure made me realize the difference music can make to a visually-impaired patient. I realized as well that there were many other patients out there - especially children - who could benefit from the emotionally and mentally-stimulating experience of playing and listening to music. For the past year, I've been in touch with Board Members of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in establishing a regular concert series that would bring live music to children suffering from vision impairment.
Most recently in March of 2017, I introduced myself at the CNIB Spring Camp to many blind and visually-impaired children. After playing the violin and piano, and talking to them about my own vision loss experiences, I was incredibly touched to witness their enthusiasm and love for music, as well as talking about their own experiences. It is my goal and hope in the next few years to establish a way to connect music students to CNIB and their patients, so that they may benefit from exposure to live music. Further down the road, I am hoping to also start a music school particularly for the visually impaired. It is my belief that blind patients can explore music performance and playing - even as a hobby, if not career - as they do not need their vision in order to play an instrument.
Inspiration from Nobuyuki Tsujii:
Blind Gold Medalist of The 2009 Van Cliburn Piano Competition
One memory that will never leave me occurred in 2009, shortly after the three-month period of blindness I endured coming out of subsequent surgeries and recoveries. During that time, the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition was taking place, while our family closely watched the broadcasted performances and winners. At the time, we had no idea who Nobuyuki Tsujii was - a blind Japanese pianist, and eventual Gold Medal Winner (tied) of the competition.
I remember my mother and I watching his final performance on TV, where he was led on stage by the conductor, sat down, felt his ways around the keys, and started playing. Anyone who listened to solely his audio recording would have no idea that this man had any deficiency in his vision, even though he was blind and had been since birth.
I vividly remember my mother's tears following his performance and announcement of his first prize. I knew after watching that performance that whatever happened to my eyes in the future, I had no excuse not to be a musician; not to pursue my artistic dreams, and even if I lost my sight completely one day, I could always play music.
To this day, watching and listening to Nobuyuki play his instrument with such determination, talent, and passion has always reminded me of what one can do if they never give up; if they truly pour their heart into what they believe.
That; to me, is the power of music and doing something you love.
Watch Nobuyuki's Final 2009 Van Cliburn Winning Performance Here:
Nobuyuki Tsujii plays Chopin Twelve Etudes, Op.10 during the preliminary round of the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition on May 23, 2009.
Franz Liszt - Liebestraum No 3 in A-flat major, Love Dream
Debussy - Suite Bergamasque, Clair de Lune
Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation
This past year, I was very fortunate to be introduced to the incredible work that takes place behind the scenes of the clinical and research practices at Toronto Western and General Hospitals. More so, it has been overwhelmingly inspiring to hear of the success stories that are possible in saving lives of patients, from eye surgeries, heart transplants, ground-breaking research, and first-class care.
Starting this year, I have made it a goal for myself to donate to the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation every Christmas, knowing that I can do what I am doing today in pursuing my career and dreams because of the generosity of philanthropy and caring patrons.
I hope that for anyone who has stumbled upon this page, or understands the difference our hospitals make will also consider donating to the TGWH Foundation.