Fred's Story

Fred's Story

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Kiwi eye surgeon Fred Hollows dedicated his life to restoring sight to the needlessly blind. He was determined to end avoidable blindness, as are we.

Fred Hollows restored sight to thousands of people around the world and trained countless eye doctors to do the same. He believed everyone, rich or poor, has the right to quality, affordable eye care. His work lives on today through The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Fred's Life

The timeline of a Kiwi legend

  • Young Fred

    Fred was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1929. He grew up in Palmerston North.

    He initially trained to become a minister but after taking a summer holiday job at a mental health facility he began to think differently.

    Fred was skilled in science and was offered a place to study medicine. After he graduated he began assisting eye surgeons. He became so interested in eye surgery that he moved to the United Kingdom to specialise in ophthalmology.
  • Fred and Ed

    While living in Dunedin, Fred was an active member of the New Zealand Alpine Club and climbed several peaks in the Mount Aspiring/Tititea region of Central Otago.

    In 1951 Fred met New Zealand mountain climber and Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary in a chance encounter. Sir Ed was on a test run for Everest, backpacking up the Tasman Glacier carrying a pack that weighed more than 32 kilograms.

    Sir Edmund recalled the encounter in his memoir ‘View from the Summit’: “As I approached the foot of the gully running several hundred feet up to the hut I was met by a young man who came bounding down to meet me and offered to carry my load up to the hut. I handed my pack over and saw his legs buckle slightly at the knees. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he was Fred Hollows — obviously he started his helpful attitude early in life.”

    The resulting friendship paved the way for Sir Ed’s support of Fred’s efforts to end avoidable blindness, particularly in Nepal, later becoming a patron of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.
  • Australia

    In 1965, Fred moved to Australia and became Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales.

    In 1968 Fred treated two elderly Indigenous Australians from Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory, who then invited him to visit their camp.

    He was shocked by the poor state of health — especially eye health — and found it hard to comprehend people were living in these conditions in a developed country like Australia. Especially concerning was the large number of people suffering from trachoma, a blinding disease rarely found in the developed world.

    When Fred visited Bourke (a township 800km from Sydney) he found the same awful conditions, and he became inspired to fight for improved access to eye health and living conditions for those who need it most.
  • Fred and Gabi

    In the early 70's Gabi was training as an orthoptist when she first met Fred. Not long after, they worked together on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program and visited more than 465 Indigenous communities in outback Australia. The project sparked the start of their relationship and an enduring partnership to create change for Indigenous Australians and throughout the developing world.

    Fred was the proud father of Tanya, Ben, Cam, Emma, Anna-Louise, Ruth and Rosa.
  • Taking on the world

    In 1985, Fred visited Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh on behalf of the World Health Organization. Two years later he visited Eritrea.

    Visiting these countries had a profound effect on Fred, prompting him to find a way to reduce the cost of eye care and treatment in developing countries. He recognised the necessity for local factories to produce affordable intraocular lenses for use in cataract surgery. He knew this would significantly cut the cost of restoring sight. Fred founded factories in Nepal and Eritrea, empowering local communities to make affordable and accessible lenses, far cheaper than if they were made in Australia. The factories have produced millions of lenses and are an enduring reminder of Fred's impact.
  • His last years

    Undeterred by his cancer diagnosis, Fred was determined to keep working for change in the countries he cared deeply about. With only a few months to live he discharged himself from hospital to travel to Vietnam to train over 300 Vietnamese eye specialists in modern surgery techniques. Along with some friends, Fred and Gabi set up The Fred Hollows Foundation to guarantee his work would carry on.

    Fred died on 10 February 1993 and was given a state funeral. He had asked to be buried in Bourke where he had a strong connection with the people and the land.

- Professor Fred Hollows

Carrying on with Fred's work

The Fred Hollows Foundation now works in more than 25 countries and has restored sight to over three million people worldwide. This has been achieved with the overwhelming support of our donors. Like Fred, we’re deeply committed to ending avoidable blindness. An estimated 9 out of 10 people who are blind don’t need to be, and while we’ve achieved so much, we still have a long way to go.

Fred wouldn’t have stopped until he put an end to avoidable blindness, and neither will we. We continue to train eye doctors and nurses, raise money for essential equipment and medical facilities, and perform eye surgeries just like the ones Fred himself performed over 30 years ago.

We're restoring sight and restoring lives. After their eye sight is saved patients are able to return to work or school and provide for their families. Fred believed that good eye care was the right of everybody and it’s with his ethos in mind that we won't hold back until we end avoidable blindness in the Pacific.

We hold a strong belief that one day soon this will be achieved.

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