Deonisia lives in a little village called Tokou on the island of Ovalau in Fiji.
When we met her, she was 64 years old and completely blind from cataracts in both eyes. And yet doctors can easily reverse cataract blindness with a simple 20-minute operation that restores sight overnight.
Unfortunately, there’s no eye surgeon on Deonisia’s island. The nearest is in Suva; a long and expensive boat ride away. Deonisia couldn’t afford to travel, so she lived with cataract blindness for almost nine years.
Before she lost her sight, Deonisia was full of life and energy. Her husband died over 10 years ago, but family and friends surrounded her, so she was never lonely. She lived by herself, but her house was always filled with the laughter of her numerous grandchildren, who she looked after while their parents were at work.
Blindness changed all of that. Deonisia’s niece Irena had to leave work to look after her. This placed a great financial burden on the family.
Deonisia spent her days sitting in darkness, quiet and withdrawn. Her many grandchildren still visited her and played by her side, but she was miserable because she could no longer look after them or watch them grow. She had two grandsons she’d never seen.
When her family heard that a surgical outreach team from The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ was coming to their island, they decided to take Deonisia to see them.
It was the first time a surgical team had visited the island, so Deonisia had to wait in line with 400 people, all desperate to have their eyes checked before the team left at the end of the week.
Deonisia finally saw Dr John Szetu, the eye surgeon in charge of the team. She couldn’t believe it when he told her she could have sight-restoring surgery the next day.
“You can really make me see again doctor? Thank you, thank you.”
The morning of the surgery, a crowd gathered excitedly to wave to Deonisia as she set off to the hospital with her niece, daughter and grandson.
The surgery took longer than expected as her cataract was incredibly large due to its maturity. But Dr Szetu’s experienced hand soon had the clouded lens out and a clean Fred Hollows Foundation intraocular lens in to replace it.
“I didn’t feel a thing. Thank you doctor.”
After the operation, Deonisia lay on the hospital bed with her grandson, niece and daughter sitting anxiously by her side. The doctors would remove her bandage the next day and the family prayed her vision would be restored.
It took a long time, but Deonisia finally fell asleep, her rosary held tightly in her hand and her family sitting tentatively at her side.
The following morning, when the doctor peeled back her bandage, Deonisia let out a wail of joy when she saw her niece standing in front of her.
“I can see, I can see!”
Tears poured down her cheeks.
“It’s so bright, it’s a new world! I’m so happy. Thank you. Thank you.”
She clasped her niece’s face in her hands and kissed her ecstatically before hugging the nurses and doctors and dancing a jig of joy.
Deonisia was amazed at how different everything looked. Even her village had changed without her realising.
“There are so many coconut trees growing beside the road now!” she exclaimed with surprise.
Deonisia arrived to find her home overflowing with grandchildren, all anxiously awaiting her return.
She sat down on the straw mat at the front of the room, and one by one, the children approached her and kissed her on the cheek. Deonisia looked each child up and down carefully and tried to guess who they were. She had not seen them for almost nine years, and they’d grown up so much she didn’t recognise them.
“You look so different now! You were only this tall last time I saw you,” she repeated over and over.
Deonisia’s daughter fell to her knees and embraced Deonisia, sobbing uncontrollably on her shoulder. Even her grown son could not hold back his tears. He sat down next to Deonisia, weeping unashamedly. But Deonisia could not stop smiling.
“This is the happiest day."
Deonisia was one of over 400 people screened and treated by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ team during their surgical outreach to Ovalau.
Dr John Szetu was supported by a team of nurses he’d recently trained at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva. Since then, the nurses have all returned to their home countries, including Samoa, Niue and Solomon Islands, where they deliver eye care services and assist local eye doctors. Thanks to the support of people like you, their communities now have access to vital eye care services.
If you’d like to support our sight-saving work in the Pacific, your donation would be gratefully received.
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