The SEE team arrived in Vanuatu on a beautiful, sunny July day. Tall palm trees swayed in the warm, gentle breeze, and bright blue waves gently broke onto the white sand. Eagerly anticipating the life-changing surgeries we were about to perform aboard Marine Reach’s medical ship, the Pacific Hope, we briskly debarked to meet our new patients. True to its name, our highly anticipated arrival by ship had indeed provided much hope to over 60 people, who patiently awaited our arrival on the dock. For many of them, the simple cataract surgery they were about to receive would change not only their own lives, but also the lives of their loved ones and their community.
Due to the unique complexities of performing cataract surgery on children (general anesthesia is usually recommended, which requires the presence of a trained anesthesiologist), we had not been planning on treating any children – that is, not until a shy, smiling girl named Elizabeth showed up and melted our hearts.
Sophie Takuru, her mother, protectively held her hand as they walked down the dock towards the ship. Elizabeth’s sweet, bright smile was a drastic contrast to the opaque silver disks clouding her eyes. The 11-year old was born with cataracts that had gone untreated, because there wasn’t a pediatric ophthalmologist in the area. Thus, Elizabeth had grown up blind due to an easily treatable condition.
Despite our initial hesitation, Sophie insisted that the SEE team operate on her daughter. She didn’t know when her daughter would have this opportunity again. So after a brief group consult, we decided to take on her case – how could we not?
We quickly contacted a local hospital and arranged for an anesthesiologist to come for an early morning operation the next day. The surgery went well, but we then had to wait 24 long hours before discovering the results of our efforts. Would Elizabeth regain her sight?
The next morning, as the SEE volunteer ophthalmologist removed Elizabeth’s eye patches and examined her eyes, we collectively held our breath. The team stepped back as Sophie leaned in close to her daughter. Elizabeth looked at her mother’s face for the first time with a curious smile. Sophie asked questions like, “Where is my nose?” and “Where is my ear?” Elizabeth playfully responded with a gentle squeeze of her mom’s nose and ears! She could see!
Thanks to supporters like you, Elizabeth can start her life anew, with amazing, miraculous opportunities for a brighter future. Click here to learn more about childhood blindness.