A single mother with a rare eye disease says she may have to go to Halifax for surgery because the Newfoundland and Labrador government won't pay for a simpler and cheaper procedure in St. John's.

Nettoya Hogan, 27, has keratoconus, a disease which has been causing her corneas to grow into cone shapes which, in turn, has been making her field of vision grow increasingly narrow.

Without treatment, Hogan will eventually lose her sight.

"Even reading to my little girl in the night time is hard because I always have to have the book right up in my face," she said. "She's there wanting to look at the pictures. It's all little minor things, but it's big things to me."

Disease treatable by two procedures

The provincial government does cover one treatment for keratoconus under MCP.


Dr. Michael Bense would like cornea cross linking to be covered by the provincial government. (CBC)

It involves a cornea transplant which must be done in Halifax, and would cost the province about $10,000. But because Hogan is young, she may need multiple cornea transplants over time.

Keratoconus can also be treated by a procedure called cornea cross-linking, which costs about $5,000 and can be performed by Dr. Michael Bense, an ophthalmologist in St. John's.

"We're able to actually strengthen your cornea two- or three-hundred-fold," said Bense.

"It's a simple three- to 10-minute procedure that is extremely safe and all data suggests that this treatment can actually halt the progression of keratoconus in virtually every case."

Bense said cornea cross-linking is also more effective than a transplant. However, it's not covered by MCP, which means Hogan would have to pay for the procedure herself. 

Can't afford it

Hogan had to quit her job when her vision deteriorated, so she's been forced to raise her two children on social assistance.

She said she can't afford to pay $5,000 for the local procedure.

But with help from her family, Hogan has been trying to raise the money so she can have the procedure done in St. John's.

Bense, meanwhile, believes the province should cover his treatment so patients like Hogan can lead productive lives without having to leave home.