The mother of a three-year-old Quebec boy is going public after a receptionist with no medical training at a private clinic accidentally glued her son's eye shut while trying to seal a small cut on his eyelid.
"I thought I was going to faint. I got emotional, I got scared. I was angry. I didn't know what to do. My son was screaming he was trying to open his eye … it was very, very, scary," Julia Vavatsikos told Go Public.
On Canada Day, Vavatsikos took Vincenzo (Vinnie) to a private medical clinic called Clinique Médicale Privée Jean-Pierre Savaria et Associes located near their home in Blainville. The clinic has since changed its name to LeBlanc & Savaria Clinique Médicale Privée.
The family cat had scratched Vinnie's eyelid. It was a small scratch, but his mom wanted to make sure everything was OK.
Dr. Jean Therrien was the only doctor working and decided the cut could be sealed with medical glue. He called a colleague into the room to help.
"I thought because it was Canada Day that maybe the clinic was short-staffed, and that he [the colleague] was either a nurse or medical student," Vavatsikos said.
"The doctor was holding my son and kind of holding his eye and then the co-worker applied glue. He kind of missed and he glued my son's eye shut."
That co-worker was not a nurse or a medical student. Go Public has confirmed he was a clinic receptionist — a part-time employee with no medical training.
"My son was yelling, 'Mommy, mommy.' He couldn't open his eye and also the doctor looked like he was panicking. He was trying to open my son's eye with water and his fingers, he was even swearing at that point. I've never met any doctors that swear. At that point, I knew something was really wrong," Vavatsikos said.
Therrien then told Vavatsikos she needed to take Vinnie to an emergency room, where medical staff were waiting for them.
'Nurse couldn't believe it'
"The first nurse [we saw] couldn't believe it. She said first of all, they try to avoid using glue because things like this could happen especially on places like an eye. But if they have to do it, the nurses aren't allowed. It has to be a doctor or a specialist. At that point I was even more frustrated," Vavatsikos said.
An ophthalmologist was called in to cut the boys eyelashes and carefully pry the eye open.
Vavatsikos said she decided to tell her story to warn others and to make sure the doctor is held accountable.
"I don't want any other kid, adult, baby to go through that — to go through what my son went through. He was absolutely traumatized. I think the doctor needs to know what he did wasn't right. He might as well have asked me to put glue on my son's eye."
Go Public made many attempts to contact Dr. Therrien and the receptionist. Neither returned messages.
We did put our questions to Dr. Marie-Andrée LeBlanc, one of the owners of the private clinic. LeBlanc confirmed the receptionist was the person who applied the glue, while the doctor performed what Leblanc called the "crucial medical act of holding the boy in place."
LeBlanc said the incident happened when the boy suddenly moved while the glue was being applied.
In a brief statement to Go Public, LeBlanc said Therrien is an experienced physician with more than 30 years in the field.
Doctor has no history of misconduct
Therrien is licensed to practise in Quebec and Ontario. The organizations that oversee doctors in those provinces say he has no history of professional misconduct and has never been disciplined.
After Vavatsikos and Go Public contacted the Collège des Médecins du Québec, the organization launched an inquiry into the incident. At the time of publication, no decision had been made and Therrien was still working at the clinic.
The incident raises serious concerns for Dr. Saideh Khadir, a physician and spokesperson for the Quebec arm of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, and an advocate for public health care.
"I was really sad because it's something that could have been prevented if it was done correctly. This kind of act of gluing a laceration should be done strictly by doctor and a qualified one when it comes to the eyes. This being done by receptionist is unacceptable."
She said a record number of private clinics have opened up in the last few years, especially in Quebec where doctors who opt out of the public system can charge whatever they want.
Khadir said when profit is involved, cutting costs is always a consideration.
"There is more risk. You can decide to hire someone that is less qualified to cut edges short. It's something that's really concerning," she said.
Not effort to cut costs, clinic says
Leblanc denied that's the case at her private clinic. She said the decision to staff one doctor on Canada Day was not an effort to cut costs, but that statutory holidays are usually less busy.
Since the incident, Vinnie has seen another ophthalmologist, who said the boy will likely not have any long-term problems with his eye.
Vavatsikos was charged $150 for Vinnie's visit, but the money was refunded by the clinic.
Submit your story ideas
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.
We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
Submit your story ideas at Go Public.
Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.