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BMC’s Multidisciplinary Approach Helps Man with Autism Reconnect with his World

Dr. Susannah Rowe slowly earned Kevin’s trust,
which allowed her team to treat the severe
cataracts that caused his blindness.

At first glance, Kevin’s world may seem different than most. The 56 year old is severely autistic and has been non-verbal his entire life. His world revolves around his group home where he lives with his caregivers and four other men with intellectual disabilities. Yet, his world also revolves around his job, the music he likes, the coffee he constantly craves and visits from his loving family. In many ways, his world is not that different at all.


Two years ago, however, everything changed. Kevin’s caregivers witnessed a gradual yet dramatic shift in his mood. He started to act out and became angry and frightened more often. The change in Kevin was most apparent to his sister and guardian, Pam Blanchette, who worried deeply for her brother’s safety. Months passed before it became clear that Kevin was suffering from cataracts. His vision had diminished to the point where he could see only shadows. He would need medical help if he were to see again.


“With Kevin, it’s not a simple thing to go to the doctor’s,” said Pam, citing her brother’s increasingly agitated state.


Pam was worried that Kevin’s prospects for surgery might be impossible until her daughter mentioned the name of a doctor who had given a presentation at Perkin’s School for the Blind. Susannah Rowe, MD, MPH, was the founder of Boston Medical Center’s Exceptional Vision Service, a medical team that focuses on providing vision care to intellectually disabled patients and others with special needs.


Pam scheduled a meeting with Dr. Rowe at BMC, where they talked at length about her concerns for Kevin's safety. Dr. Rowe explained how her team could help Kevin tolerate the eye surgery and how they could help his caregivers take care of him afterward.


“I said ‘Oh my God, I found an angel,” chuckled Pam recalling that first meeting with Dr. Rowe.


Dr. Rowe and her team devised a tailored approach to Kevin’s special needs that not only addressed his cataracts, but also his suspected hearing loss, as well as deferred dental and blood work. It would take the coordination of specialists across disciplines including colleagues in BMC’s departments of Anesthesia, Nursing, Otolaryngology and Dentistry.


Over many office visits, Dr. Rowe and her team worked hard to develop a relationship with Kevin and put him at ease. He slowly began to trust the medical team, especially Dr. Rowe, whom he let guide him by hand through the halls of her medical office.


Kevin had two surgeries under general anesthesia to remove his dense cataracts. During each procedure, Dr. Rowe made an incision and removed the clouded lens of the eye. She replaced the lens with a synthetic one that would also correct his vision. She chose a procedure that would create a larger incision, but a more durable wound that could be left unbandaged for Kevin’s sake. At the same time, Kevin had long-overdue blood work drawn, a hearing test performed and earwax removed with the help of Anand Devaiah, MD, FACS, in BMC’s Department of Otolaryngology.


“When Kevin woke up that day, he was able to see and hear again. I think hands down, this is the most meaningful thing that I do,” said Dr. Rowe. “It defines why I wanted to become a doctor and I feel so lucky to be in a place where I can do that.”


Today, Kevin’s quality of life is restored. He smiles a lot and is back to being able to enjoy the things he loves.