29 October, 2015
CBM’s Church Engagement Lead Rob Nicholls reflects in this fourth instalment from Kenya on the impact cataract surgery can have not only on the individual, but on the whole family and entire communities.
Today, a fellow grandfather looked at me as we parted and said, “I like your job!”. I replied that I did too, especially today. We had a common bond – he grew coffee and I love drinking it! But we also shared a sense of enormous achievement as we gazed at his granddaughter, Leila, and great-granddaughter Lacy.
Lacy had been born totally blind with cataracts in both eyes. After some months, Leila’s mother and aunt both expressed concern; Leila’s aunt took Lacy to Sabatia Eye Hospital, a specialist eye care hospital in Vihiga County, Western Kenya, which today we visited. Just this month, both of Lacy’s cataracts were removed and replaced with lenses; now her mother describes her as a happy and active girl “doing all the things I saw other babies do”. As we sat in the room with three generations the emotion was palpable, and we were thanked for our part in this.
CBM was present at the inception of Sabatia Hospital and has been strong partner throughout that time. In fact, CBM’s support enabled children like Lacy to have vital surgery at no cost, when it would have been beyond the resources of the family to pay the full cost.
We spent a number of hours with Dr Annis Orlando, the CEO and paediatric ophthalmologist, who introduced us to almost all of the staff and spoke with great passion of the importance of this work and of ensuring that everyone had access to good eye care.
40,000 people per annum receive treatment through the hospital, and they train doctors from Kenya, Uganda, Ruanda and Tanzania to expand the number of people impacted by this great work. We saw everything from eye testing, assessment and diagnosis, prescription, surgery and even spectacle-making, as we walked the hallways of this beautiful place. We chatted with men and women as they had their eye patches removed after their surgery the day before. They ranged from 16 years old to over 80, and we also met very young babies with their mothers as they waited for or recovered from surgery. I loved watching the warmth of the interactions between our group of Christine, Wendy and Dona with those people.
Of course, not everything happened at the hospital; we had heard of the outreach work to visit schools and remote community where, following screening, people were bussed to the hospital for surgery.
I had a long-held wish fulfilled as I stood in the operating theatre and watched three adults have their cataracts removed and new lenses put in their place! A very young baby even had delicate surgery done to correct his glaucoma-affected vision. I watched, amazed, as miracles literally took place before my eyes! We were fortunate that large screens had been linked to the microscope used by the surgeons as they worked. Their deftness working with such small instruments in such a delicate part of the body was professionalism at the highest level. That is not an experience I will ever forget.
The home visits that followed helped us experience the impact and see the importance of that surgery. Seeing young Lacy was a beautiful experience, as was visiting an older couple Joaquin and Esther.
Joaquin was a farmer with cattle and crops who was the breadwinner for his family at over 70 years of age. For 18 months he was unable to work because his eyesight had deteriorated to the point of not being able to go anywhere without Esther’s help and not being able to read his bible, a significant loss for him.
His crops had shrunk to a fraction of their normal size when he finally had both cataracts removed this month. He is now able to get back to work, be mobile and read his bible. Esther was very happy because she could now get on with her work too and not have to lead Joaquin everywhere. They were a joyful couple who wanted to wish us and CBM many kind blessings.
It was hard to leave the conversation I was having with my fellow grandfather, Mohammed. We managed to communicate that we both believed in our brotherhood, whatever our beliefs, and loved our families. I left with his words ringing in my ears and thanking God for my job and the opportunity to meet such genuine people who knew how to be grateful.