Just one day before dangerous floodwaters rose around her home in Fiji, Francis regained her sight. For the first time in six years, she was able to move around independently.
Francis gets help, just before the floods
A surgical outreach team from The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ met Francis in late March, just before a devastating tropical storm hit Fiji.
Within a matter of hours, her home town of Lautoka was six feet under water. Hundreds of people were displaced, homes and crops were devastated, and seven people sadly lost their lives.
Like thousands of others, Francis and her family were evacuated to an emergency shelter. But thanks to cataract surgery, what would have been a terrifying experience being blind and dependent on others for help, was much more manageable for Francis.
She was able to see the waters rising and get out easily during the evacuation.
The Foundation's surgical team comes to Ba
For six long years, Francis had tried desperately to get medical treatment for the dense cataracts that had filled both of her eyes and taken away her sight.
The last time she saw her daughter she was a child, and she missed seeing her transform into a young woman. The Foundation’s surgical outreach team has visited the area several times, but there is still a large backlog of people needing cataract surgery.
Despite living in Fiji’s second largest city, Francis could not access the straightforward, life-changing surgery that is readily available here in New Zealand.
There were simply no ophthalmologists. She had almost given up hope.
Then, by chance, she learned that a Fred Hollows Foundation surgical outreach team would be visiting later in the year.
The experience of blindness
Like so many who are needlessly blind, Francis was quiet and withdrawn when the team first met her. She cried while describing how difficult the last few years had been for her.
Once a proud mother of seven, she had dedicated her life to looking after her family. But as she slowly lost her sight, she also lost her ability to care for the people she loved the most. Instead of being their carer, she became their burden.
This is an all too familiar story in the Pacific.
Kiwi icon, Professor Fred Hollows, believed that everyone has the right to high quality eye care no matter where they live.
The Foundation carries out surgical outreaches to get to those in urgent need, but we are also working hard to make sure there are enough eye care professionals to provide desperately needed operations in local communities. It’s a big job, but we are proud to be carrying on Fred’s vision.
In 2006, we launched the Pacific region’s first training facility for eye health professionals at the Pacific Eye Institute, which is now located in Suva, Fiji.
In the six years since Francis went blind, we have trained more than 125 eye health workers from 12 Pacific countries. We are now seeing the benefits of investing in local eye health workers, with people like Francis regaining their sight.
Safe after the floods
Our team visited Francis at the evacuation centre where she and her family waited until it was safe to return to their home. Surrounded by family, Francis spoke of regaining her sight.
“The first thing I did when I got back home was go to see my grandson. I had never seen him before, and it was a great joy to me. I was there when he was born but I had never seen his face. I can’t stop looking at him.”
People like Francis should not have to wait for years to have their sight restored, or wait in hope that a surgical outreach team will visit their area. Together we can help those like Francis to see again.
We have the tools to restore sight to the needlessly blind in the Pacific. We just need your help.
Photos: James Ensing-Trussell | Topic Photo Ltd