Restoring sight. Restoring lives.

Restoring sight. Restoring lives.

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When a child needs an emergency operation to save his sight, you don’t hold back.

By Dr. Duke Mataka
Photography by James Ensing-Trussell

My name is Dr Duke Mataka. I was born in Tonga and trained in Fiji. Thanks to the support of The Foundation, I studied for my master’s degree in eye care at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji. Read my personal story below...

Your gift of just $25 could restore sight to another child like Daniel.

The story I want to share is about a remarkable little boy in Tonga. His eyes were saved thanks to the Pacific Eye Institute’s Outreach Team. I’m a member of this team which travels to areas of the Pacific where there is no permanent eye doctor, but there are people whose blindness needs to be treated.

Last November, Daniel was a happy-go-lucky, cheeky little four-year-old. One day he and his brother were playing with a broom when it broke. The jagged end hit Daniel in the eye, tearing his retina.

Dr Duke (right) and Dr Mundi test Daniel’s eyesight before surgery
Dr Duke (right) and Dr Mundi test Daniel’s eyesight before surgery
It makes me so sad to see people of all ages suffering from blindness, simply because they have almost no access to eye care. But with a gift today, you will help change this.

His family rushed him to hospital, but they sent him away because (at the time) there was no eye doctor living in Tonga. His father went looking for the nurse at the eye clinic. He found her at the market, but the nurse said they could do nothing for him. They would have to call the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji to see if an eye doctor could come over.

I was asked to make the two-hour flight from Fiji to Tonga. It was a weekend, and I was studying hard for my exams, but I knew this was an emergency and the little boy needed an operation. Fortunately, I got there in time to treat him that day. It was very scary for him and his family. They were all so worried. But we dealt with the crisis, and Daniel was released to go home.

Consultations and sight-saving surgeries
Daniel after the successful operation
Daniel after the successful operation

Even so, I was worried about Daniel. Little children who suffer eye trauma like this often develop a cataract soon after. So, the clinic monitored his eyes over the next few months. Sure enough, his left eye soon went cloudy and he started to lose his vision.

This was terrible for him. Every day his sight got worse, he became very scared of totally losing his sight in his left eye. His mother and father were very worried too. He couldn’t do his work at school, the other kids teased him about his eye. It was a very distressing time for Daniel and his family.

The team

But this is a happy story. The Outreach Team were due to come to Tonga in April, six months after I helped Daniel. The nurse made an appointment for him to come to the clinic. When I saw him, I hoped for a smile, but he was such a sad boy by now, very withdrawn.

Within half an hour that had all changed. We removed the cataract and put in a new lens. In a few minutes he could see again, though not clearly. But when I went to see him at his home the next day, his vision was completely restored, and he was back to being cheeky little Daniel, singing and laughing and playing with his brothers.

When you give $25, you will give someone their sight back, and their life back

I cannot tell you what that feels like. To see Daniel go from a scared little boy to this picture of happiness — the joy it gave me.

Daniel’s eye is just fine now. He is studying well, and he has read the lesson at Sunday School. It would have been awful if he had gone blind. It would have been such a tragedy and so unnecessary — and that’s what Fred Hollows worked so hard for, over all those years. An end to unnecessary blindness.

Update: Dr Duke has since graduated and is working as the only full-time eye doctor in Tonga.

Why we need your help

In Tonga and other places in the Pacific

  • Tonga has only one permanent eye doctor. But there are hundreds of people, young and old, with cataracts and other reversible eye conditions.
  • We fly an Outreach Team to these places for a week at a time and treat up to 150 patients. This means working into the night to see everyone.
  • The outreach team of four eye doctors work with local equipment that is old and outdated. We could do so much more if we had up to date equipment.
  • The only way to fund these visits is from the donations we receive. We rely entirely on the support of Kiwis like you.

Will you support us?

Many places in the Pacific still rely on the infrequent visits from an outreach team attached to our Pacific Eye Institute. Your gift will change lives.

Donate now

Dr Duke’s story

Duke Mataka grew up on Eua, the most southern inhabited island of the Tonga group. Sponsored by the New Zealand government, he studied for his medical degree in Fiji, graduating in 2010. He was the first person from Eua to study for and complete a medical degree.

"Becoming a doctor was not only my dream. It was my family's as well."

Both my parents didn’t finish high school and are subsistence farmers. I have eight siblings, and our parents only had one dream for us: to have a good education and support ourselves one day.

Upon returning to Tonga, he was posted to Vava’u, where he met our eye care team. This stirred an interest in ophthalmology, and soon he was back in Fiji to study for a postgraduate diploma at the Pacific Eye Institute (funded by The Foundation).

In 2018, Dr Duke completed his studies and is now back in Tonga working as the country's only permanent eye doctor.

Dr Duke (left) and his patient and former Chief of Police Unga Fifita
Dr Duke (left) and his patient and former Chief of Police Unga Fifita

Duke intends to return to Tonga when his studies are completed. It will be a happy homecoming, as his wife and family have remained in Tonga while he studies. It will also fulfil an ambition to give back to the people of Tonga and serve them.

"Without this Fred Hollows scholarship, I would still be a Medical Officer. But they sponsored me. They sent me back to Fiji; they trained me in my Diploma in Ophthalmology; then they offered again, 'Why don’t you continue your masters?'.

We owe a lot to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and the donors. They have been helping a lot, right across the Pacific.

Fred Hollows sponsor me and my colleagues. It’s great, I have seen with my own eyes, the amount of work they put in. The Foundation has trained and put full-time eye doctors in several islands across the Pacific. Tonga will be next. Together we can restore sight to thousands of people."

Duke has another affinity with Kiwis. He is rugby mad, and was working with the Tonga Rugby Union prior to returning to Fiji to study to become an eye doctor. He completed levels 1 and 2 of the medical training for rugby, and went on several tours with the national team.

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