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Elisabelle St-Hilaire, 27 and an Ocularist

Social media handles:

Elisabellexo on TikTok

Elisabelle at 2 years old. After having her eye removed.
Elisabelle at 2 years old

Where are you from?

Born in Quebec City, and raised in Connecticut and in Ontario.

Where do you live now?

Montreal, but I work in Ottawa as well.

Tell us a little about yourself:

I am an avid gym goer, competitive powerlifter, ex-gymnast, and CFL cheerleader. I enjoy spending time with friends and family, I play guitar, and I love to cook and eat.

What’s your eye story?

I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at the age of 2. They removed my eye within the week of my diagnosis and I got a prosthetic eye about two months after enucleation. Losing an eye has helped me find myself, my values, and my beliefs. It has also helped me find the career of my dreams!

What has been the hardest thing mentally?

Accepting myself when I was a teenager. I cared too much about what other people thought of me and my prosthesis, rather than affirming what I thought about myself. If someone treated me differently because of my eye, I would judge myself rather than let go of that person. I do not do that anymore. Anyone who has a judgment about my prosthetic eye is someone who is not meant to be in my life.

What has been the hardest thing physically?

Having a minimized field of vision impacted my will to play team sports. Going through certain reconstructive surgeries has also been painful at times.

Where are you now in your recovery?

I am as healed as I have ever been although I still have moments of weakness. As I get older I feel like I am becoming wiser, and kinder to myself, and I find

more love for myself every year. I think this is a very long journey that has its ups and downs. I am at the point in my journey where I feel like I was truly meant to lose an eye because it has brought out so many positives in my life. It has forged who I am.

Elisabelle at work, not wearing her prosthetic eye.
Elisabelle at work

What piece of advice would you give to someone going through their eye impairment journey?

Love yourself how you are and for who you are. Don’t let others make you feel like you are less, and never let it stop you from doing anything you want. Also, I would recommend joining support groups such as EyeHesive, Lost eye, MAPS, etc.

Who is your eye surgeon and ocularist?

Dr. David Jordan is my oculoplastic surgeon, myself as well as Marie-France Clermont and Isabelle Forget are my ocularists.

How did you find EYEHESIVE?

Through Shelby Perry :)

  • How long have you been an ocularist?

I have been an intern ocularist for four years now.

  • How did you learn this trade?

Elisabelle at work with a young patient
Elisabelle at work with a young patient

Going through schooling at the College of Ocularistry through the American Society of Ocularists.

  • What made you want to become an ocularist?

My whole family works in prosthetics. My mother is a prosthodontist and she did her residency when I was 8. We spent many weekends in the lab with her therefore I was exposed to and enjoyed this type of work for many years prior to becoming an ocularist. There is a lot of overlap with prosthodontics, maxillofacial prosthodontics, denturism, and anaplastology.

I knew I wanted to be an ocularist at the age of 12. I was having my prosthesis made and I felt so at home. I loved the idea of using artistry to help someone. I found out how to become an ocularist and made it my goal.

Since ocularistry training is done through apprenticeship, I asked my ocularist to consider me an applicant. After about 11 years of consecutive asking and completing an undergrad in health sciences, I was offered a position as an intern ocularist.

My sister was also influenced by my mother and became a denturist.

  • What is something most people don’t know about ocularists?

Ocularists want to do the best job that they can. Sometimes, perfection cannot be achieved no matter how talented the ocularist is.

  • What is the number one question most patients ask?

Do I have to take it out? Will it look the same? Will it move? Will I get secretions? Is it going to be comfortable?

  • What is your least favorite thing about your profession?

Showing a prosthetic eye on the computer
Showing a prosthetic eye on the computer

When a patient has unattainable expectations. (Will regain sight, the prosthesis will move 100%, will have absolutely no discharge, does not want to come back for adjustments)

  • What is your favorite thing about your profession?

When a patient loves their new eye. I really enjoy the making of fun eyes as well. Connecting with patients and getting to know them over the long term is also a huge plus in my field.

  • How many different ways can you make a prosthetic eye? - How long does the process take?

Countless roads lead to Rome! It takes me about 5 hours to make a prosthesis from start to finish. Sometimes I will ask my patients to come back for adjustments.

  • What age group do you tend to make eyes for the most?

All age groups, but we tend to have more senior citizens.

  • How has the trade changed over the years? - process, paints, materials, etc.

The trade has not changed very much over the years. Eyes are still made out of PMMA, impressions are still taken with alginate or silicone, and they are hand painted to this day.

  • Can you sleep in your prosthetic eye?

Yes, I can. When an eye has been enucleated or eviscerated, people can sleep with their prosthesis. When a person is wearing a scleral shell (prosthesis over a phthisical [blind] eye) they may have to remove it due to the sensitivity of the eye.

  • What if someone doesn’t like their prosthetic eye can you make changes to it what would that look like?

Always! What is most important is that the patient is happy and comfortable with their prosthesis. I always tell my patients to contact me if ever there is anything, whether it be the comfort, the opening, the color, etc. Corrective work can be done, and sometimes I choose to just remake it as a whole. I offer a one-year guarantee.

Elisabelle at 2 years old after having her eye removed. Wearing an eye patch playing with toys
Elisabelle at 2 years old after having her eye removed.

How do most people adjust to getting a prosthetic eye early in life compared to people who are adults?

I would say that is case by case. Some people tend to accept themselves better than other people, no matter what age they are.

In terms of tendencies, children, teenagers, and young adults tend to have a harder time psychologically and with self-acceptance. People who have lost their eyes as adults and seniors tend to have a tougher time adjusting to the visual aspect of things.

  • What can you tell us about people’s experiences getting a scleral shell and people getting used to them over a damaged eye?

Phthisical eyes are more sensitive than enucleated or eviscerated eyes because they still have a cornea. Certain people have no issue wearing a scleral shell 24 7. Others can experience discomfort and cannot wear it to sleep.

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