Patients + Research: Maria Larmon

Patients + Research is a platform for patients to discuss their relationship and experience with the research that leads to new cures, cares and treatments.

Patients + Research: Maria Larmon

Meet Maria

Thirty years ago, Maria Larmon was diagnosed with an eye condition that left her legally blind. Researchers at the Hotel Dieu Hospital Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic have used new accessible technologies, including the iPad, to help Maria regain her independence.

Maria Larmon with Hotel Dieu ophthalmologists/researchers Dr. Mark Bona (left) and Dr. Zale Mednick (right).

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?

About 20 years ago, when I was 30 years old, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition that eventually left me legally blind and unable to read or watch TV.  I stayed in the house more and more.  I tried using magnifiers and other low vision aids but without much success.

Why does health research matter to you?

Health research turned my life around.  Thanks to a study in the Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic at Hotel Dieu Hospital I learned how to use the really helpful accessibility features on an iPad such as the virtual assistant Siri and voiceover.  Before, I had to hope like heck someone else remembered by medical appointments.  Now I can track them myself, send emails, text, find recipes on the internet and access other applications that support people with low vision.  I have my independence and privacy back, and a lot more hope for the future.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

Having low vision can have a huge impact on your life.  You run the risk of falling more or suffering from depression or losing a job.  You could end up with more physical or mental health problems.  Researchers like Dr. Mark Bona and Dr. Zale Mednick at Hotel Dieu Hospital aren’t just trying to help people see print better.  They’re improving the quality of their lives by helping them to function better in society and live healthier, happier and more productive lives.

How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?

I think patients can help to support research by speaking out about how research has helped them and improved the quality of their lives—good reasons to encourage others to participate in research studies.


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Add your voice to the Patients + Research blog series. Email or call Elise Bradt at, 416-205-1469, or direct message or tweet at us on Twitter at @CAHOhospitals.

Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter, visit our impact page, and check out our other blog posts and videos.

HWS Field Trips: Kingston

HWS Field Trips: Kingston

Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class research happening across our province, we took a field trip to historic Kingston, home to a highly innovative, interdisciplinary health research community.

We went behind-the-scenes at Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu Hospital, Providence Care, and Queens University, and were delighted to be joined by patients, research teams, hospital CEOs and local politicians MPP Sophie Kiwala and Mayor Bryan Paterson along the way.

This blog post highlights only a fraction of the research we learned about on our field trip. To take the full live-tweeted tour, scroll through our Storify story here.

Continue reading “HWS Field Trips: Kingston”



Exciting translational research at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston is literally mapping a new and groundbreaking way to perform breast cancer surgery that could allow for complete excision of the tumor while improving the cosmetic results of the surgical procedure. A collaborative effort between hospital surgeons and researchers at the Queen’s University School of Computing, this transformative surgical technique and its novel use of GPS-like technology has the potential to significantly improve surgical outcomes.

Mapping out a new technique for breast cancer surgery

Currently, breast tumor surgery uses wire localization, a technique in which a radiologist uses mammography or ultrasound to insert a fine wire into the tumor site. The surgeon then follows the wire to locate and remove the tumor and the rim of tissue around it—called the surgical margin. In cases where the tumor is hard to see and feel, however, obtaining cancer-free surgical margins at the excision site can be a challenge. To ensure no cancer cells remain, surgeons may end up removing excess healthy tissue.

By contrast, the electromagnetic navigation system under study at Hotel Dieu gives the surgeon a clear visual of the targeted area. The system uses ultrasound to map out the breast tumor, generating a 3D model of the tumor site with a virtual surgical margin. It provides real-time tracking information that better equips the surgeon to remove the tumor cleanly and with less healthy surrounding tissue.

“The whole point of this technique is to reduce the incidence of cancer-positive margins,” explains Dr. Jay Engel, Hotel Dieu surgeon and Chair of Surgical Oncology at Queen’s University. “If you get the surgical margins right the first time because you’ve taken a very planned approach, then you reduce the need for further surgery and you also conserve healthy breast tissue.

“If the technique proves effective—and I think it will—then it will make a big difference in breast tumor surgery. It could also be applied to other soft tissue cancer surgery, such as liver surgery, where you need a clear picture of where you’re cutting in relation to the tumor.”

Health science meets computer science

At Hotel Dieu, the breast-conserving surgical technique has been successfully piloted on patients with a single palpable tumor in a study geared to testing the feasibility of using the electromagnetic navigation system in the operating room. In January, Dr. Engel’s research team started clinical trials with patients with non-palpable tumors to prove the benefits of the system compared to conventional methods.

That research team—a hybrid of surgeons and computer scientists—tapped into Queen’s University’s internationally-recognized expertise in image-guided surgery for their project.  Dr. Engel consulted with Dr. Gabor Fitchinger, Cancer Care Ontario Research Chair, and Director, Laboratory for Percutaneous Surgery (The Perk Lab) in Computing Science at Queen’s. Dr. Fitchinger and his team of scientists jumped at the opportunity to find a novel solution for improving positive margin results, describing the innovative navigation system as the “right problem at the right time” for The Perk Lab.

A cost-saving solution for clinical practice

Dr. Engel’s team aims to build an electromagnetic navigation system that will be highly affordable for most hospitals, which translates into better use of health care dollars.  And given its potential for allowing a surgeon to obtain clear margins at the first surgery, the system can reduce the burden on operating rooms by decreasing the need to repeat procedures.

In 2014, the research project won the Canadian Society of Surgical Oncology poster competition at the Canadian Surgery Forum in Vancouver, as well as grabbing attention at other national and international conferences.

The project is a testament to translational research, says Dr. Engel, an idea that was once an abstract concept that has now led to potential changes in clinical practice.

“It’s amazing that everyone has been able to get together, see the potential and translate that into a practical solution,” he says.


Hotel Dieu Hospital is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.