Whistleblower Doctor Says Eye Surgery Left Her Nearly Blind
A doctor who was one of the first people to sound the alarm about the novel coronavirus outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan says she has lost vision in one eye following cataract surgery last year.
Ai Fen, director of the emergency room at Wuhan Central Hospital, where many of the city’s coronavirus patients were treated, blamed her near loss of vision in May on the lack of clear and proper medical procedures pre- and post-surgery at the Wuhan branch of AIER Eye Hospital, according to her post on microblogging platform Weibo. She also accused the surgeon, Wang Yong, of sending her a manipulated scan of her right eye indicating that she had a severe cataract, which clouds the lens and affects vision.
“I was fortunate enough to elude the virus attack earlier this year, but I couldn’t escape the retinal detachment that happened the day after my 46th birthday,” she wrote in a recent post on social app WeChat.
On Thursday, Ai said in a video post that she had experienced an “obvious decline in eyesight” in May and was referred to the Wuhan AIER Eye Hospital by a physician acquaintance. This doctor said she needed lens replacement surgery to treat her cataract — an account the hospital has confirmed.
But Ai said in the video that when she tested her eyesight again two months after the 29,000 yuan ($4,500) surgery, her right eye’s visual acuity had declined to a shockingly low 0.1, a rating the International Council of Ophthalmology classifies as “severe vision loss.”
Ai said she was also diagnosed with retinal detachment — a medical emergency that may cause permanent loss of vision if untreated — on Oct. 23, when she visited the hospital after feeling like her right eye was “covered with a cloth,” according to her video post. But instead of treating her, Ai said, AIER told her to “go back to (her) own hospital to do the surgery.”
Hours after Ai’s video, Wuhan AIER said in a statement that their medical procedures met all standards, and that the cataract in the doctor’s eye had warranted surgery. The hospital added that Ai’s pre-surgery scans had not shown warning signs of retinal detachment.
Unsatisfied with this statement, Ai demanded that the hospital release the pre-surgery scans that supposedly showed a cataract.
“In hindsight, I did not need to do the lens replacement surgery at all. They (AIER Eye Hospital) did not do a thorough retina check, and performed the surgery just for the sake of replacing my lens. … A retina treatment would likely only have cost a couple hundred yuan,” Ai said in her video.
On Monday, AIER Eye Hospital released another statement apologizing for its “ineptitude in meeting management standards,” as well as the eye scans from before, during, and after Ai’s surgery. The hospital said the immediate post-surgical checkups had indeed shown a significant degree of eyesight improvement (from 0.2 to 0.6), and that Ai’s severe myopia prior to the surgery had been a major risk factor for retinal detachment.
“Through verification, the retinal detachment in Ms. Ai’s right eye is not directly correlated with the cataract surgery,” the statement said.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Ai Fen poses for a photo at the hospital where she works as an emergency room doctor in Wuhan, Hubei province, 2020. From @急诊室向日葵艾芬 on Weibo)