Moving to Nova Scotia has helped make a couple wishes come true for Dr. Mustafa Kapasi.
“I always dreamed about having a house by the ocean and a nice place to work,” he said.
Now, with a home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and a position with the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital ophthalmology department, the young specialist has ticked off those items on his wish list.
“It has been really great,” Kapasi said of his time in Antigonish since coming east from Toronto just more than one year ago.
This stop in the Highland Heart of Nova Scotia is one of many for the globetrotter, of sorts, who was born in Zimbabwe.
Next came two years in Botswana and then South Africa before his family immigrated to Canada, when he was four years old, and settled in Toronto; more specifically, its environs of Scarborough and North York.
After his undergraduate studies in neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Kapasi headed west to study medicine at the University of Manitoba.
From there, he completed a research fellowship and his residency training in Ottawa.
“One of the nicest parts of going to Manitoba was how friendly people were there – it really opened my eyes,” Kapasi recalled of his time on the Prairies.
He missed that friendliness when he returned to Canada’s largest city.
“I didn’t want to go back to minus-50 (laughing), so Nova Scotia was the next logical step, where people are just as friendly as in Manitoba, but we have a nice climate that is moderated by the large ocean,” Kapasi said.
‘Cutting edge’ technology
Describing it as “my primary interest in life,” he said his love for physics drew him to ophthalmology.
“Every area of medicine is pretty great but for ophthalmology, specifically, I like that there is so much physics, math and engineering.
“I like how it is cutting-edge – there is new stuff coming out all the time,” Kapasi added.
Having “extremely successful outcomes” that come in the field also appealed to him.
“You get to see a lot of people come in, who can’t see; walk out and can see, which is super satisfying,” Kapasi said.
“It gives you that aspect of medicine, where you are really helping people, but also fulfills the science nerdy part of me – all the techy stuff – which is great with ophthalmology.”
He and his colleagues are on the ‘cutting edge’ due, in large part, to recent purchases supported by the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation (SMRHF), including $190,000 towards an ophthalmic retinal digital camera system.
“It is, basically, like a CT scan of the back of the eye,” he explained of the machine – the only one of its kind in Nova Scotia – which arrived in December.
“It fires a laser light, in very quick succession – it is called 100,000 A-scans per second – and it gets an image, from the back of the eye, and computer analyzes that and forms a high resolution image.”
It provides more images – scans per second – than its predecessor which, Kapasi noted, provides two significant benefits.
“It decreases the amount of time you need and, if you decrease the amount of time that you need, it causes two things; it is more comfortable for the patient – the scan is faster – and, when we are situated for a test, we inherently move, so the faster the machine captures the test, the less movement of the eye – the higher the resolution of the image,” he explained.
“It allows us to see pathology that our old machine, just because of its design, we could never see, because it would always be too fuzzy.”
Kapasi illustrated his explanation by bringing up an image from each machine on his computer monitor – the difference between the two noticeable, even to the untrained eye.
The camera system also provides a colour picture of the back of the eye, which is beneficial for comparative purposes.
It also performs angiographies, but there are no dyes involved, as is the case with traditional methods. That eliminates the possibility of complications, albeit rare, if a patient is allergic to the dye.
With the technology, the need is lessened to send tests to Halifax for second opinions.
And, if someone like a retinal specialist has to be consulted, the images can be sent quickly.
“The cool tech helps with making better diagnoses, provides better care,” Kapasi said.
He uses the technology every day.
More to come
The ophthalmic retinal digital camera system purchase is one of myriad examples of the SMRHF working to improve healthcare in the Strait region.
“We have a mission to ensure our hospital has the resources that support quality health and medical care,” foundation executive director Sarah MacDonald said.
To do this, she added, the foundation funds “ground-breaking education, cutting-edge research and updated medical equipment which supports staff and physicians at the hospital.”
“Our goal is to help the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) ensure that St, Martha’s has some of the best and most innovate equipment available to allow staff and physicians to provide top-notch, quality care to the community,” she continued.
The SMRHF accomplishes its goals through support for its fundraisers, including the 989 XFM Hospital Help Day, an annual radio-thon aired in the region by the Antigonish-based station.
Each year, the foundation earmarks an item to be bought with the proceeds.
In keeping with the ophthalmological theme, the 2018 commitment was $71, 785 towards an IOL Master 700, which is scheduled to arrive at St. Martha’s in the coming weeks.
“When you are doing cataract surgery, there is a planning stage. You come in, you have a cataract, I have no idea what lens to put in your eye,” Kapasi said, in outlining the benefits the coming equipment will provide.
“Because each lens is custom to the patient, each one must be custom determined.”
He explained there are “various factors” that have to be measured – metrics of the eye – in order to determine the lens required.
“When you take the scan, you can see the back of the eye and make sure that there are no abnormalities there – our current machine doesn’t do that,” Kapasi said of the more than decade-old model.
Like the ophthalmic retinal digital camera system, it will also provide more scans per second.
“It takes the measurements faster and, when you do measure the eye, you need to measure more than one thing. Now, ours does it sequentially, while the new one does it concurrently,” Kapasi explained.
“So, you sit down, click a button and it takes all the measurements at once. Again, it’s faster, and, because it does it more quickly, there is less movement, so it is more comfortable for the patient.”
He noted having more measurements leads to better accuracy and results in selecting the best lens for each patient.
“As more and more doctors retire, you can’t compromise care, but you can optimize it by being more efficient, which is something close to my heart,” Kapasi said.
He added having such technology allows him and his colleagues “to see more people and see them on time.”
Recruitment and retention
Along with improving level of care – and options provided – for patients at St. Martha’s, the purchase of equipment and technology assists in the recruitment and retention of physicians, such as Kapasi, and healthcare professionals.
“One of things that we recognized, really quickly, when we have new physicians – or newly-trained physicians – they are trained on the most up-to-date pieces of equipment,” MacDonald said.
Kapasi reflected on the importance of being at the forefront of technology, and having the opportunity to do the same things he could do anywhere else, played in his decision to come to St. Martha’s.
“When you are coming to a smaller community, you sometimes wonder will it be up-to-snuff with all the big academic centres,” he said.
“Well, if you have the same equipment that the big academic centres has, it doesn’t matter where you are at, and you can provide the same care, because we are all trained out of an academic centre.”
Considering “you are on the leading edge of technology in ophthalmology,” he added “you have to be there to stay current.”
“And, here at St. Martha’s, we are doing that,” Kapasi said.
More to do
MacDonald said support for equipment purchases, such as the most recent two for the ophthalmology department, “could not be possible without the generous support of our donors.”
That support comes through a variety of fundraisers, such as Hospital Help Day, along with SMRHF’s endowment fund, which has blossomed to almost $16 million since the launch of The Time is NOW campaign in 2016.
“The endowment allows the foundation to commit to targeted growth and wise investments to efficiently and effectively utilize each donor dollar,” MacDonald explained.
“As our donations increase, we invest those donations and we use the interest gained to purchase this amazing equipment.
“Ideally, the more we invest, the more interest we gain and the more equipment, education and research we can support,” she added.
That sounds great to Kapasi, who continues to settle into his new community, including taking advantage of that proximity to the ocean, learning to sail last summer.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said.
Hopefully, sooner rather than later, his fiancée, who is completing a glaucoma fellowship in Halifax, will join him and the St. Martha’s staff.
“Everything has been wonderful,” Kapasi said.