Special report by Gabi Hollows, Founding Director
Australia: The impact of even one fairly simple operation can be huge, particularly with Aboriginal patients, because of the role of the elders in the community.
Reggie was afraid
Reggie Uluru's eyesight was fading and he was afraid.
As a traditional owner of Uluru, Reggie is a man with responsibilities, and Reggie’s father had died soon after losing his sight.
"I was worried it would happen to me," Reggie told me. And who would teach the young ones then?
"The knowledge I know, I pass on to my grandchildren, so that they can pass it on too."
Reggie is in Alice Springs for one of the week-long intensive surgery sessions The Foundation runs in Central Australia to try to clear the huge backlog of people needing procedures.
Ophthalmologist Tim Henderson explains how restoring sight to Aboriginal elders plays such an important role in communities out here.
"The patients you are restoring sight for are often responsible for...passing on all the men's business and women's business and maintaining the culture.
"And if they can't see to do that they can't show important areas and sites...that's where you really get far more than just the normal impact you would get for someone with poor vision."
A difficult decision
When Reggie arrived at the clinic Tim was concerned about exactly which procedure he should have.
In one eye Reggie had a developing cataract. Left untreated, it would eventually grow and make him totally blind in that eye.
At the same time, his other eye urgently needed an eyelid operation to prevent the eyelashes from growing inwards and scratching his eye. This can cause ulceration and scarring of the cornea, which ultimately causes blindness if untreated.
Tim decided he would only do the eyelid operation this time around, so that both of Reggie's eyes would not be out of action at the same time.
The operation would not be simple – the problem had advanced way beyond the stage where it would normally be treated.
Tim says city colleagues visiting to help with the surgery weeks estimate that, where they work, 1 in 50 cases are as difficult as Reggie’s. The rate out here is 1 in 5.
Because of the complicated nature of the surgery, Reggie’s eye needed time to recover.
Will the operation be a success?
Finally, the day arrived to see if the operation had been a success.
As Reggie's eye patch was removed, a big grin spread across his face.
The operation had gone well.
"I'm happy that I can see again," he said, smiling. "I am happy to see the young kids and my grandchildren in the community growing up."
Fred would be proud of what his Foundation has achieved.
Dr Tim says, "Our patients go from darkness one day to full sight the next – it's as dramatic as that. And the reaction after surgery is priceless, with people grinning from ear to ear."
Your gift to someone like Reggie means you don't just restore his sight, you also restore his role in the community, his ability to share his knowledge and provide leadership. You restore his dignity and independence.
I can't think of a better gift than that.
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