Deonisia lives in a little village called Tokou on the island of Ovalau, in Fiji.
She is 64 years old and is completely blinded by cataract in both eyes.
Cataract blindness can be easily reversed with a simple 20 minute operation that restores sight overnight.
But there is no eye surgeon on Deonisia's island. The nearest is in Suva, a long and expensive boat ride away. Deonisia cannot afford to travel there, so she has lived with cataract blindness for almost nine years.
Before she lost her sight, Deonisia was full of life and energy. Her husband died over 10 years ago, but she was surrounded by family and friends so she was never lonely. She lived by herself but her house was always filled with the laughter of her numerous grandchildren, whom she looked after while their parents were at work.
Blindness changed all that. Now Deonisia has to be looked after by her niece, Irena, who left work to look after her. This has placed a great financial burden on the family.
Deonisia's day is now spent sitting in darkness. She is quiet and withdrawn. Her many grandchildren still come to visit her and play by her side, but she is miserable because she can no longer look after them nor watch them grow. She has two grandsons that she has never seen.
Her family worries about her constantly
When they heard that a surgical team, funded and trained by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, would be coming to their island they decided they should take Deonisia to see them.
It was the first time that a surgical team had visited the island, so Deonisia had to wait in line with another 400 people, all desperate to have their eyes checked before the team left at the end of the week.
When Deonisia finally saw Dr John Szetu, the eye surgeon in charge of the team, she couldn't believe it when he told her that she could have sight restoring surgery the next day.
"You can really make me see again doctor?" she said. "Thank you, thank you."
The morning of the surgery, a crowd gathered excitedly to wave to Deonisia as she set off to the hospital with her niece, daughter and grandson.
The surgery took longer than expected as Deonisia's cataract was incredibly large due to its maturity. But Dr Szetu's experienced hand soon had the clouded lens out, and a clean Fred Hollows Foundation IOL (intraocular lens) in to replace it.
"I didn't feel a thing. Thank you doctor."
After the operation Deonisia lay on the hospital bed with her grandson, niece and daughter sitting anxiously by her side. Her bandage would be removed the next day and the family prayed that her vision would be restored.
It took a long time but Deonisia finally fell asleep, her rosary held tightly in her hand, and her family sitting tentatively at her side.
The following morning, when her bandage was peeled back, Deonisia let out a wail of joy when she saw her niece standing in front of her.
"I can see, I can see!" She cried, with tears pouring down her cheeks. "It's so bright, it's a new world! I'm so happy. Thank you. Thank you."
She clasped her niece's face in her hands and kissed her ecstatically before hugging the nurses and doctors, and dancing a jig of joy.
The journey home
Deonisia was amazed at how different everything looked. Even her village had changed without her realising. "There are so many coconut trees growing beside the road now!" she exclaimed with surprise.
Deonisia arrived to find her home overflowing with grandchildren, all anxiously awaiting her return.
She sat down on the straw mat at the front of the room and one by one the children approached her and kissed her on the cheek. Deonisia looked each child up and down carefully, and tried to guess who they were. She had not seen them for almost nine years, and they had grown up so much that she did not recognise them.
"You look so different now! You were only this tall last time I saw you!" She repeated over and over.
Deonisia's daughter fell to her knees in front of her mother and embraced her, sobbing uncontrollably on Deonisia's shoulder. Even her grown son could not hold back his tears and he sat down next to Deonisia, weeping unashamedly. But Deonisia could not stop smiling.
"This is the happiest day," she said.
Deonisia was one of over 400 people screened and treated by The Fred Hollows Foundation team during their surgical outreach to Ovalau.
Dr John Szetu, the leading eye surgeon and director of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ's eye care training institute in Fiji, was supported by a team of nurses he had recently trained. The nurses will soon return to their home countries, including Samoa, Niue and The Solomon Islands, where they will deliver eye care services and assist eye doctors with the support of their local government and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. This will ensure that their own communities receive the precious gift of sight long into the future.
If you would like to support The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and our eye teams in the Pacific, your donation would be gratefully received.
All images courtesy of Kristian Frires
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