Zaydan lives in Lautoka on the main island of Fiji. Last October, Zaydan travelled to visit our Outreach team in Labasa on the island of Vanua Levu, 230km from his home. He came with two other children whose eyes also needed immediate attention. They all made this journey because we were not able to perform operations in any of the hospitals on the main island. These were required for patients with COVID-19, which hit Fiji very hard.
Jyoti, Zaydan's mother, shares how they came to make this journey:
'Zaydan was not born with cataracts. However, he started having problems with his eyes when he was about four. Sometimes he did not recognise people. He couldn’t read very well, saying the type was too small. I did not really understand what his problems were. Then in March last year, something happened that told me they were serious.
He was talking to me in the house, and he was looking in a totally different direction from where I was. He couldn’t see me! After I took him to the doctor to have his eyes checked, he was referred to the hospital. They said he had cataracts in both eyes, one was really bad, the other nearly as much.'
'I was desperate, I was told the only way to get an operation was to go overseas, take Zaydan to New Zealand or Australia. They said the operation was urgent. But we could not go overseas. Zaydan’s sight was getting worse, and I was so worried. Without his eyes what sort of life would he have?
Then something wonderful happened. At work, one of my superiors said, “Have you thought about Fred Hollows? They will help you.”
In desperation, I contacted The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ on social media and they were amazing. I want to tell you that. The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ was very good to us. They said they could not currently operate at the Pacific Eye Institute, it was still being used for people with COVID-19. But despite that, they had made a plan to help us. They were going to Labasa to do operations there. Zaydan would be able to come over and his cataracts could be removed.'
Six months after he was diagnosed with cataracts, Zaydan and his mother Jyoti met Dr Mundi in Labasa. Dr Mundi was leading an Outreach team that had travelled to the small hospital there, to help patients whose eye problems required immediate attention.
Zaydan desperately needed two operations. Small children with bi-lateral cataracts are an emergency because if cataracts are left too long, the brain stops receiving and recognising vision signals. This means when the cataracts are removed, they will be left with a ‘lazy eye’, for which there is no treatment.
Two operations under general anaesthetic in three days are very difficult for anyone. Terrifying for a small boy who can barely see what is happening. However, that is what needed to be done. Waiting to perform the second operation might have made it impossible, given the uncertainties around COVID-19.
Zaydan rested for a day, then we operated on the second eye, this time with Dr Varanisese performing the operation.
In the months that followed, Zaydan’s sight got better and better. Jyoti told us of that time:
‘The experience with the doctors gave us so much joy. When we came home, he could see faces, recognise his friends. For the first time in his life, he saw a rainbow. He was amazed. He could name all the colours. I could not believe it.
One day he even said to me, “Mum, you look so beautiful”. I will never forget that.
The operation has changed his life. It has also changed mine. Before he wouldn’t leave my side, he would cling to me because he couldn’t see properly. Now he is always off playing. He tells me, mum I don’t need you. I’m a big boy now.’
Zaydan is fortunate in many ways. Without The Foundation there is a real chance he would have remained blind. Unnecessarily so, as is often the case in the Pacific. Instead, he is a growing boy, doing well at school, becoming a good reader. Something he can do without glasses. He has a great future now.
Restoring Zaydan's sight has changed his life, but it's also changed his mother's. Her worry is gone. She says she is so thankful for this gift:
'I have a thank you message for all the donors. I ask you to keep supporting this good cause. People who donate are doing a good thing - you are giving vision, which means you are giving life to someone.