Umesh is one of the good guys. He is 37 years old, a loving husband, father of two children, and dedicated primary school teacher. He also loves sport. He plays and coaches football, and was a keen golfer and tennis player.
The happy life he led started to come to an end around three years ago. He began to have trouble writing on the blackboard, and when he stood at the back of his classroom, he was unable to see what he had written. He also started to struggle with driving, and had to give up playing his beloved sport.
Umesh thought he needed glasses, but when he finally got a pair, they didn’t help. After months of worsening sight and further difficulties, he went for another eye test, this time at the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji.
We found something that sadly we see far too often in the Pacific Islands.
Only 36 at the time, he was now fearful for his future. Not only his future, but those of his wife and children. To be dependent on them to get around, unable to see, unable to work, that was the last thing he wanted.
Umesh was also fearful for his students. Living in a small community, they relied on him and this preyed on his mind.
What’s more, his visits to us here at the Pacific Eye Institute had established Umesh had diabetes eye disease. This is a condition separate from cataracts, but it can only be treated once cataracts are removed. Umesh would need an operation to save his sight.
The Pacific Eye Institute clinic always has a waiting list, and it got much longer when the pandemic arrived. Within days, we were closing the clinic, putting surgeries on hold, and leaving patients to wait, their eyesight worsening all the time. Even when the clinic reopened and patients rebooked, emergency operations would push them back again.
Umesh simply battled on. After all, he still had students to teach and there was no-one to cover for him at the school. He also had his family to feed. Slowly his fears came back, and his family worried for him too.
But eventually his turn came, and not a minute too soon. By now he had totally lost his sight in one eye and the other was deteriorating alarmingly. He was thinking he might have to leave teaching altogether, which would have been tragic, not only for him but also for his family and the small community he lives in.
Right up to the time of his surgery, Umesh had one great fear. What if anything went wrong? What if he lost his sight altogether? Many patients grapple with negative thoughts, for Umesh the thought of the operation was terrifying.
When we came to operate, he was shivering with nerves. He went into shock, making the operation more difficult. Fortunately, he had nothing to fear. We successfully removed the more advanced cataract and inserted a lens.
A week after the surgery Umesh’s vision had improved so much he was able to drive himself to the clinic for his checkup. As soon as we saw him, we could see the difference. Walking into the clinic, Umesh and his wife were laughing and smiling, and sure enough his assessment showed perfect vision. We were overjoyed.
For Umesh, it was not just the end of all those terrifying thoughts, it was as if we had given him his whole life back. Being able to see his children grow up, being able to teach again, to be coaching his football team, to be a real contributor to his community.
Yes, it gives people their sight back, but it does so much more. It gives people their jobs back, their friendships back, and, very importantly, their dignity back. In Umesh’s case it also gives his students back their teacher and football coach.