New Hope for a Cambodian Woman

November 2015 | Patient Stories, Stories from the field

By Kate Bryant

Former Vice President of Development

One morning 17 years ago, Tes Pha, a Cambodian woman, was quietly cooking breakfast in the yard of her house. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she felt liquid pouring over her head. In a split second, her life drastically changed. Someone threw acid on her. It was an inhuman, horrific act that would scar her for life, forever changing her appearance, but also forcing her into a sightless world in an instant.

In 2013, however, she became one of the first acid attack victims in Cambodia to receive a successful cornea transplant, thanks to SEE International’s surgical team. Cornea transplants are rare in Cambodia due to the lack of organ banks, high cost of surgery, and limited ophthalmologists with the proper training.

Her transplant was made possible by Dr. Kevin Winkle, an Alaska-based ophthalmologist who brought a cornea from the United States and led the operation. The surgery was risky because acid attack victims are unlikely candidates for cornea transplants due to the severe damage and scarring around the cornea.  Acid attackers generally aim their deadly weapon at a victim’s face to cause the most harm, thus Tes’ eyes bore much of the damage. On average, one in four victims of acid attacks who seeks treatment is partially or fully blind. Fortunately, Tes appeared to have sufficient stem cells, making her an eligible candidate for the transplant.

Two months after her surgery, her left eye had mostly accepted the new cornea, and she has regained vision. “There have been many surgeries,” says Tes of her incessant turns on the operating table in recent years. “But I’m now able to work at home — to clean and wash — so I feel much better.”

For the first time in almost two decades, she has her independence. She can move around on her own, cook for herself, and, most importantly, see her family. In fact, she was able to see one of her sons get married in May. Now she feels hopeful for the future.

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