New Brunswick is losing its only pediatric ophthalmologist

New Brunswick’s only pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Erica Doucet, is closing her practice in November, leaving the parents of patients uncertain about their next step in getting treatment for their children.

Doucet, who is based in Moncton, sent a letter to families that reads in part, “unfortunately, the resources required to effectively manage the increasing number of patients do not exist at this time in New Brunswick.”

Doucet declined to do an interview with CBC News.

Melissa Berge is the mother of four-month-old, Rosalie. When Rosalie was eight weeks old she was diagnosed with congenital nystagmus. She has been waiting for an appointment with Doucet since then.

“It causes her eyes to go back and forth,” Berge said of the condition.

“It affects depth perception and how far she can see, and it usually is accompanied by other visual impairments but we haven’t made it that far yet.”

Rosalie was supposed to see Doucet on Friday, but the appointment was cancelled last week because the office is closing.

“I’m disappointed we can’t do it locally, but I’m really, I just wanted to have the best care,” Berge said. “I had heard so many wonderful things about Dr. Doucet.”

And she said it’s frustrating to start fresh. The next nearest specialist to Rosalie is in Nova Scotia.

Berge has been told Rosalie will be sent to the IWK Children’s hospital in Halifax. But she doesn’t have an appointment yet, and Berge is worried her daughter will be put back at the bottom of the list.

“Rosalie seems to be meeting her milestones but at one point she might not be in. You know, we don’t know what she can see and how to help her.”

“It would be nice to know what we’re dealing with just for the sake of her development.”

As the mother of four children, Melissa doesn’t look forward to the long drive to Halifax, which she expects will happen about three times a year.

Vitalité Health Network said that it doesn’t know how many patients Doucet was treating, or how long her wait list was, but that it is actively looking for a replacement pediatric ophthalmologist.

Waiting game

Bouctouche mother Jessica Leblanc said that after a year of waiting, her daughter Anabelle didn’t even manage to get an appointment with Doucet.

“I feel like we’re failing her, we’re all failing her.”

Six-year-old Anabelle wears glasses and an eye patch to correct the deviation in her left eye. Leblanc said that before her specialist referral, she was told if Annabelle’s eye isn’t straightened out by the time her daughter is seven, it may never happen. Her birthday is in June.

“As a mother I want to give my children everything that they need and right now she needs her eyes fixed and I can’t give her that.”

Leblanc found out on social media that the province’s specialist was leaving, and she’s frustrated her daughter will be put back on the bottom of another doctor’s waiting list.

“It’s a priority list so when she’ll be seen, I have no idea. It’s another waiting game.”

Other options

The Vitalité Health Authority said patients who were seeing Doucet can be seen by general ophthalmologists working in the province, or they will need to travel to Nova Scotia or Quebec.

“If there is a specific task they cannot complete, the transfer corridor to tertiary care (IWK and Quebec) is always available to patients,”  wrote Thomas Lizotte, regional media relations adviser.

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