Ottawa woman who got botched eyeball tattoo: ‘I’d rather get my eye taken out’
Editor’s note: This post has been updated
Two months after an Ottawa woman’s story of a botched eyeball tattoo went viral, the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (EPSO) are petitioning the provincial government to make the procedure illegal.
Catt Gallinger, a 24-year-old body modification enthusiast, agreed to have a tattoo artist give her an eyeball tattoo (also known as a scleral tattoo), but the procedure did not go well. Within 24 hours, she was in severe pain, her eye had swollen shut and she experienced blurred vision. Since September, she’s undergone a number of treatments in an effort to reduce swelling and restore her eyesight. Although she says she did get her sight back at one point, it’s now blurry once again.
She’s currently waiting to schedule a sedated procedure to have the flap of her eye that is filled with ink removed — she had been booked for an unsedated procedure but says that her “rocky mental health” prevented her from going through with it. But time is ticking. The ink is solidifying and once that happens, her only recourse will be to have her eye removed.
“There have been a lot of times where I’ve thought, if I have to live like this for the rest of my life, I’d rather get [my eye] taken out,” she tells Global News.
In light of the growing popularity of scleral tattooing, EPSO petitioned the provincial government and opposition health critics to ban eyeball tattoos and jewelry for cosmetic purposes on Nov. 16. An amendment to Bill 160 has been successfully carried and is currently being deliberated. If passed, it will prohibit the sale, offering for sale, or provision of scleral tattooing and implantation of eye jewellery under the conjunctiva, unless performed by a member of a regulated health professional.
“Listening to our patients is the most important act a physician can perform as we value Ms. Gallinger’s courage to tell her story,” Dr. Jordan Cheskes, EPSO president, tells Global News. “I am very pleased EPSO was able to work with all political parties at Queen’s Park to make sure that unregulated eye tattoos never occur again in Ontario’s future.”
Gallinger’s isn’t the only case in Canada. A man in Alberta had to have his eye removed in July after bacteria contaminated the tattoo ink that had been injected into his eye.
“It’s only within the past few years that scleral tattoos have gained in popularity, however, we are starting to see more and more with fringe festivals such as the [Rites of Passage tattoo festival] in Australia and people are pushing the limits to stand out,” says Marcia Kim, director of EPSO.
This would make Ontario the first province in Canada to ban eyeball tattooing and jewelry (in which adornments are implanted under the conjunctiva). Right now, the only known law banning scleral tattoos is in the state of Georgia, where the law stipulates that people cannot be tattooed within one inch of the eye socket.
“An injection in or around the eye should only be performed by a licensed ophthalmologist,” Kim says. “Ophthalmologists spend more than nine years obtaining rigorous medical and surgical training to perform procedures on the eye and are educated on its delicate anatomy.”
Corneal tattooing is a regulated surgical procedure carried out by an ophthalmologist to treat disfiguring corneal scars or glare due to iris trauma. Tattoo artists, Kim notes, have no specific educational requirements, and options include being self-taught, attending a tattoo school or doing an apprenticeship.
“The risky act of tattooing an eye is being performed by untrained individuals who have no knowledge of the eye’s delicate anatomy.”
Gallinger says that now that she’s aware of what is involved in scleral tattooing and how untrained tattoo artists are in the eye’s anatomy, she would “highly not recommend anyone get it done.”
“I feel [eyeball tattoos] should be banned. There should be laws in place for these people to get in trouble,” she says. “Even the creator of it [which is largely attributed to body modification artist Luna Cobra] says it should be banned and not performed by anyone but surgeons. He regrets inventing the procedure.”
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