Special report by Brian Doolan, CEO
Eritrea: Born with cataracts in both eyes, 3-year-old Zeineb was almost totally blind. See how Fred’s work in Eritrea is continuing, as sight and hope is restored to one young girl.
I really hoped we could help her
When I first met little Zeineb at an eye clinic in Eritrea, the three year old was holding onto her grandfather so tightly she seemed almost part of him.
Zeineb tried to follow the movement of my hands with her eyes. Upset that she couldn't make out what was happening, she buried a teary face in her grandfather’s shoulder.
I really hoped we could help her see.
Zeineb was born with cataracts in both eyes, and was almost totally blind. In many developing countries, blindness is a short route to an early death.
Because her mother was tied to home with a new baby, Zeineb's doting grandfather had walked for three hours carrying her through the dry, rocky hill country of northern Eritrea, followed by an eight-hour bus trip to bring her to The Foundation-supported eye clinic in the town of Keren.
The eye doctor at Keren was worried. "She has cardiac problems," he said. "They are not very serious but we don't have an anaesthetist here."
He referred Zeineb to Dr Desbele Ghebreghergis at the National Eye Hospital in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, where they have the facilities for this kind of complication.
Dr Des - a great friend of Fred's
Dr Desbele is a renowned ophthalmologist and was a great friend of Fred Hollows. He and Fred met in the hospital caves of Eritrea in 1987 during the war of independence from Ethiopia. Fred was impressed to see the Eritreans manufacturing sterile medical supplies as the war raged around them. They inspired him to take on the challenge of providing high quality eye care in developing countries.
Every person in the room smiled
Dr Des was very gentle with Zeineb. After a thorough examination, it was agreed they would be able to operate.
We just needed to be careful with the anaesthetic and her heart.
"We will operate on both eyes at once, instead of taking the risk of putting her under anaesthetic twice," Dr Des said.
The operation was remarkably quick, and Zeineb’s grandfather carried his little granddaughter off to rest overnight.
The following day he brought Zeineb back to the hospital.
Dr Des gently removed the patches. The little girl looked a bit stunned, turning her head slowly, first towards her grandfather, then around the room.
"Can you see my hand?" Dr Des asked her, holding it about a foot away from her face. She nodded.
He held up two fingers. "Show me how many fingers I'm holding up." She hesitated, and then held up two fingers.
Every person in the room smiled. Zeineb's grandfather was beaming. "She has her sight now in both eyes, this is more than we could have hoped for," he said.
"I have hope now for my granddaughter's future. She will be a miracle baby in my village. People will hear about her and know they don't have to sit down blind."
"When an operation is a success it makes you happy," said Dr Des, smiling at Zeineb.
Restoring sight changes lives.
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