Vietnam: When five-year-old H'Nhi was just a baby learning to crawl, her mother noticed something was wrong.
“There was something white inside her eyes,” she remembers. H’Nhi’s mother was afraid, and heartbroken that something should be wrong with her baby, her only girl in a family of boys.
H’Nhi had been born with cataracts. All she could see was a blur. And when light hit her eyes, the pain was excruciating.
One morning earlier this year, the little girl woke as usual, her face screwing up in pain as the sunlight shining through the cracks in the walls of their family home struck her eyes.
But this wasn’t an ordinary morning for H’Nhi.
This was the day she was travelling with her grandmother and uncle to the Phu Yen Eye Hospital in Central Vietnam to be examined by the doctors.
H'Nhi's mother had just had a new baby and would have to stay at home, unable to make the journey with them.
“She is very precious to me,” she said. “I want H’Nhi to have a better life than mine.”
H'Nhi's family had to borrow money for H'Nhi, her grandmother and her uncle to make the journey to Phu Yen.
“The teacher at school encouraged us to go,” H'Nhi's mother told us.
And it was important to go as soon as possible. H'Nhi needed to be treated while she was still young, or it could be too late. After the age of seven, the brain may not respond to signals from the eyes.
Helping families who can't afford surgery
H’Nhi’s family never thought they would be able to afford to get H'Nhi's eyes treated, but thanks to our supporters, she was able to get treatment at the Fred Hollows supported Phu Yen Eye Hospital.
H'Nhi was operated on by Dr Phuong, a Foundation-trained ophthalmologist, the only one in all of central Vietnam trained to operate on children.
“Hospitals are scary for children”, Dr Phuong said, “and they normally shout and cry when they see doctors in white gowns.”
“H’Nhi was different. She was brave.”
Just 24 hours after the operation, H’Nhi’s eye patches were removed.
Suddenly, this brave little girl clung tightly to her grandmother and refused to open her eyes.
Everyone watched anxiously.
Finally, after much coaxing, Dr Phuong said, “H’Nhi, open your eyes, where is grandmother?”
The little girl opened her eyes a tiny crack.
Slowly the expression on her face changed, and then with a big smile she pointed at her beloved grandmother.
Everyone in the room laughed with relief. The operation had been a success.
A happy homecoming
When H’Nhi returned home the whole village came out to greet her. The little girl immediately ran to her mum and threw her arms around her.
“She rushed to me and said, ‘Mummy, mummy, I can see so clear!’” said H’Nhi’s mother.
“I was very happy at that moment.”
“H’Nhi has always been a happy child and since the surgery she is even happier,” her mother said.
“She can run and play happily in the sun with no pain at all. She is always smiling and singing. She loves playing with her brothers and friends. Thank you so much. We are all very happy now.”
“This is the biggest happiness of our whole family,” said H’Nhi’s father. “I just want to thank you so much for your help, for what you have done for our daughter.”
Now H'Nhi's parents’ hope for their daughter “is to get a very bright future and not live a poor life like us”.
It can cost as little as $25 to restore sight.
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