Thanks to our supporters, Elizabeth was able to receive life-changing surgery, light finally entered her life, bringing possibilities simply unimaginable had she remained blind. This moment marked the beginning of a normal childhood.
Now Elizabeth can look at the world with wonder, recognise her mother, father and sisters and before too long will go to school.
But this will only happen if she has the right support and after care following her bi-lateral cataract operation. That’s where continuing donations will protect everything good that has happened to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth's father and mother took the day off to bring her to see the doctors who had performed the operation. Both Elizabeth's eyes were covered with bandages.
For Elizabeth’s parents, the three days prior had been very tense. The first day had been about getting Elizabeth to the clinic, where they met the Outreach team. The next day observing the operation itself, and now waiting anxiously to find out whether it had been successful.
Elizabeth was carried by her father into the clinic the first day after the cataract surgery.
For Dr Carole, who performed the surgery, it was a very special moment - she explains:
“Once I took the bandage off one eye, I knew. She was looking around, taking in her surroundings. I became teary, relieved that the surgery was successful and from pure joy that Elizabeth could see.
By the time I took the bandage from the second eye, she was looking very curiously at her father’s long beard. She was looking up to his face, then running her tiny fingers through his beard, while her father was just watching her and smiling. I could see it was a very special moment for father and daughter. For me too, as one of the surgeons looking on.”
For everybody in the clinic, this was magical. They watched enthralled as the little girl gradually took in more and more.
Everything was new, she kept picking things up and wanted to walk around by herself. She reached out to touch the hands of those around her, and one of the patients, himself blind until only a few minutes before, was able to pick her up and hold her as if she was a miracle.
"It's such a big weight off our shoulders."
If the story ended here, once again we would be grateful for the wonderful efforts of our eye doctors in the Pacific. Grateful too for the generosity of our donors, who make this work possible.
But the story does not end here. This is the beginning of a long journey, for both Elizabeth and Dr Carole.
The sobering truth is, Elizabeth was lucky. Lucky her parents noticed her eyesight problems. Lucky they took her to the local clinic, and lucky an outreach was scheduled not long after. Lucky a new clinic will take care of her rehabilitation, which will take several years.
As Dr Carole explains: “To completely manage a child with congenital cataracts requires more than surgery. Elizabeth will need many years of visits for visual rehabilitation after the actual surgery, and this requires dedication on the part of her family, her eye doctors and the low-vision rehabilitation team.
In the Pacific, post-surgery visual rehabilitation structures are virtually non-existent. It makes me sad that visual outcomes are often less than optimal, despite successful surgery.”
It also highlights the need for more eye doctors and nurses to be working throughout the Pacific.
This is where your donations will now make such a difference. So that Elizabeth and other children like her will receive the on-going care needed to recover fully.
Elizabeth will return again and again to the new eye clinic in Port Vila, which is funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. With rehabilitation, her visual outcomes will be good, and she can truly look forward to a bright future. More eye doctors and nurses will join Dr Kasso (Vanuatu's first permanent eye doctor) and his team, so more children like Elizabeth will receive the treatment they so desperately need.
Your donations make outcomes like these possible, that were simply unheard of even five years ago. Regular donations means we can help more little girls like Elizabeth see again, so they can see a future and grow up to be the person they were born to be.
Dr Carole, who performed Elizabeth’s surgery, is a Solomon Islander in her final year of specialist training at The Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji.
She shares what led her to specialise as an eye surgeon with The Foundation.
“In my lifetime I wanted to be able to do my best and, at the end of it, be satisfied that I have done as much as I can with what I have been given. I have been privileged to be given this opportunity by The Foundation to eventually serve my people and to do so with the late Fred Hollows’ non-discriminatory passion for humankind.
To be able to help my people means a lot to me on so many levels. As an individual it means that I can fulfil my personal goals and, in doing so, contribute to improving the basic health needs of all Solomon Islanders. On a professional level it means that if I can attain this level of education then so can others. So hopefully I can be a role model to young women Solomon Islanders to continue to strive to achieve their personal best, not just for themselves but so they can contribute to bettering Solomon Islands. On a family level it means that as a wife I can help my husband support our family and as a mother to three girls, show my children that women can do almost anything they aim to. As a daughter of the Solomon Islands it means that I can contribute to my country’s health through the knowledge and skills that I have gained in my training, and aim to do so in a kind manner to instil hope in all who pass through my clinic doors.”