Elisabelle St-Hilaire @Elisbellexo
Credentials: B.Sc.HSS, COO.
R.B survivor, former Canadian Football League cheerleader, digital advocate and Ocularist, Elisabelle St-Hilaire shares her story with Know the Glow.
Elisabelle St-Hilaire, an ocularist from Montreal, Quebec, knew at the age of 12 that this was what she wanted to do for a profession. Her life leading up to this pivotal realization began when she was two. At the time, her mom noticed she would bump into things and struggled to see the storybooks being read to her at bedtime. Concerned that something might be wrong with her daughter’s vision, Elisabelle’s mom played a game called “Patch” with her. She instructed Elisabelle to cover one eye at a time and identify details about a toy positioned across the room. She quickly discovered that Elisabelle could not see correctly out of her left eye. The same day Elisabelle’s mother took her to the emergency room. That visit led to a referral to the vision department at the hospital. It was there that Elisabelle’s retinoblastoma (RB) was discovered and her eye was removed within that very week. Elisabelle recalls little about this whirlwind in her life, but its impact on her is evident. She recognizes that losing her eye to RB was part of her life journey and led her to then find the career of her dreams.
Elisabelle’s entire family works with prosthetics which made this career choice even more meaningful. She attributes her mother’s professional occupation as making a huge impression on her and impacting her direction in life. When she was eight, her mom did her residency as a prosthodontist, a dentist specializing in complex dental matters and restoration with artificial devices. She remembers playing at the lab with her sisters while her mom developed her professional skills. She would watch her mom create dental impressions and replicas for patients. These moments generated interest, curiosity and a sense of belonging for Elisabelle and her sister. She often played with the wax, plaster and alginate available in the dental lab. She often asked her mom questions, intrigued about the materials that were being used and how the result made a natural-looking tooth. It was apparent that Little Elisabelle was setting up the foundation of her career without knowing it.
It all came together for Elisabelle at the age of 12 when she went to see Marie-France Clermont, an ocularist from Montreal, Quebec. During the session, Marie-France noticed the keen interest of her young patient and invited her to watch her as she created Elisabelle’s prosthetic eye. This moment changed everything for Elisabelle, as the idea of using artistry to help someone seemed like a dream. The ability to connect the medical field to art was a profound realization. She felt at home in that space and knew this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
In the years that followed, Elisabelle worked hard. She entered the University of Ottawa and graduated with a double major in health sciences and business. During her university years, she actively asked her ocularist Marie-France if she would consider her for an apprenticeship. The response typically was not now, as Marie-France had a full staff already in place, but Elisabelle never gave up. Each year when she went to get her eye adjusted or receive a new prosthetic eye, she would bring her hopes to Marie- France about studying as an intern with her. After 11 years of asking, Marie-France finally called Elisabelle and asked her if she would be available for an apprenticeship! Elisabelle’s dreams were finally coming true.
During the four years of her apprenticeship, Elsabelle has not only worked internally to improve her skills but has also shared her professional and personal journey on her social media handles, always striving to promote inclusion, acceptance and understanding. When she is not sharing videos of making prosthetic eyes with her more than 35,000 followers on TikTok, she stays current on government policies and budgeting for ocular prosthetics. Knowing that prosthetic eyes are considered cosmetic and are not covered as part of treatment in Canada, she created a petition that quickly went viral. It highlighted the poor financial support used for ocular prosthetics for residents of Quebec. Elisabelle saw an opportunity for change when the Quebec Government was to reevaluate the budget, creating the petition to promote awareness and generate attention to public officials. Know the Glow is happy to report that since our interview with Elisabelle, the Quebec Government has reevaluated its budget and is now covering 75% of the cost of prosthetic eyes! In addition, patients with prosthetic eyes can receive readjustments up to three times a year. We are thrilled for Elisabelle and the province of Quebec for making these necessary changes.
What sets Elisabelle apart from most ocularists in her field is the fact that she has a prosthetic eye. She was open and honest that it wasn’t always easy growing up with a prosthetic eye, but that the experiences gained through these challenges forged the person she is today. She identified that losing her eye to RB when she was two, helped her to find herself, her values and her beliefs. Being able to relate to patients on such a personal level, she understands the challenges that one faces when living life with a prosthetic eye both physically and psychologically.
What’s next for Elisabelle? She revealed that her partner is currently completing his medical school and will begin residency in a few short months. They both share the vision of settling in Montreal afterwards and creating a family of their own there. During that time, she hopes to buy her boss’ practice and continue developing the skills needed to be an effective ocularist. One thing is clear, Elisabelle St-Hilaire is not only an inspiration but a kind and caring person who strives for the well-being of others. We at Know the Glow can’t wait to see all her dreams come true.
(with my mom and sisters)