Patient Stories

Bethe's story

Without access to quality eye care, an everyday accident led to a long and painful loss of independence for Bethe.

Bethe lives on Pentecost, an outlying island of Vanuatu. It’s an isolated community, and the boat journey to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, is long and arduous.

The island suffered a severe cyclone in 2017. Bethe’s home was badly damaged, and as she was working with her family making repairs, a large, flax-like leaf slashed across her face, perforating her eye.

Soon Bethe's eye became infected. Every day the infection worsened until she was unable to see out of her eye. She was forced to leave her job as a teacher at the local kindergarten and couldn’t do her household chores.

Bethe sought treatment at a local medical clinic, but they were unable to help her. There simply wasn’t anyone available on the island, so they recommended she go to Port Vila.

Leaving her husband and sons behind, Bethe mustered all her courage and made the long journey to Port Vila.

At the clinic in Port Vila, once again, Bethe could not be helped. Without a permanent eye doctor in all of Vanuatu to call upon, she was told she’d have to wait until the next outreach by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ came to Port Vila.

Bethe couldn’t afford to travel back home to Pentecost, so she stayed with relatives in Port Vila.

For six long weeks, Bethe endured extreme discomfort and agonising pain. When it came time for her to attend our outreach clinic, our doctors were shocked by what they saw.

Bethe’s infection had spread, and she was very weak. The pain was so bad she held the side of her face continuously. But she did manage a smile; she was so relieved we were there.

For our eye doctor, the severity of her infection was concerning. He knew he had to act fast, and within hours Bethe was in emergency surgery.

Tragically, it was too late to save Bethe’s eye. Even more heartbreaking was the fact that, if someone was there to help, it might have been possible to avoid her loss of sight and independence.

The infection in Bethe’s eye was threatening to spread to her brain with possibly fatal consequences, so Bethe’s eye had to be removed. While this was a significant operation, it meant Bethe’s life was out of danger, and she could begin the healing process.

Bethe may have partially lost her vision, but thanks to the eye doctors of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, her life was saved.

A week later, Bethe returned to her home. Her husband and sons were overjoyed to see her, but they all knew their lives would be different. She had to make the sad decision that she would not return to work at the kindergarten, which has been a great loss to her and her whole community.

At the time of writing, the clinic in Port Vila was in poor condition, but with the help of our donors, it has been upgraded and expanded. In December 2019, the centre was opened, and a Foundation-trained eye doctor returned to live in Vanuatu to begin seeing patients. If an eye doctor had been available at this clinic when Bethe’s eye was first injured, they could have saved her eye.

This upgraded clinic is just one of the ways we’re eliminating avoidable blindness and providing sustainable solutions for people suffering from the many eye diseases and conditions prevalent in the Pacific.


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