Special report by Brian Doolan, CEO
Vietnam: The accepted wisdom in medical circles is that a child born with cataracts should be treated before reaching seven years of age. After seven, it is less likely the brain will respond to signals from the eyes. Malo is nine.
I must tell you about Malo
I was in Vietnam with a team from The Foundation when I met Malo.
By any measure, this young boy was blind. But by holding his head close to a page and squinting, Malo could make out images. He is a clever little boy, and he has even learnt to write.
“My eyes…if I go out in the sun, my eyes hurt,” he told us.
The team exchanged glances. This was actually a good sign. The fact that Malo was experiencing excruciating pain when sunlight hit his eyes meant his retinas were not completely ‘dead’.
There was a small possibility that when his cataracts are removed and replaced with artificial intraocular lenses (IOLs) Malo will be able to see normally.
Malo is a child of the Ba’na people, one of the 53 ethnic minority peoples in Vietnam.
His father “went away” soon after his birth. His mother struggles to raise her little boy by herself, working as a farm labourer, spending most of her days outdoors.
Malo didn’t get to see much of his mother because of the pain he experienced in direct sunlight but it was obvious that he is everything to her.
The day I met Malo he was sitting on a tiny plastic stool in a traditional farm hut in the central southern province of Phu Yen.
Members of The Foundation team helped Malo and his mum into our four wheel drive to begin the long, bumpy ride to town.
I started to worry. What if the surgical procedure doesn’t work? Have we raised their hopes, only to have them dashed?
Malo’s surgeon, Dr Tran Minh Phuong, received paediatric cataract surgical training funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation.
She carried out the procedure quickly and efficiently.
I wish you could have seen it
Every time I see this operation I am totally blown away. At one level it is so skilful, and at another, so simple.
Just 24 hours after Malo’s operation, the moment of truth arrived. As the patches came off his eyes, we all held our breath.
His smile lit up the room. It was like Malo had been reborn.
Soon he was playing with other children and pointing out the details of toy trucks that he’d never been able to see before.
Then the most amazing thing happened, the little boy who just two days before had stumbled and bumped into walls started...running!
He flew down the hall like any happy nine-year-old, his face filled with glee.
Whenever I venture out in bright sunlight, I think of Malo and the difference that such a simple inexpensive operation made to him and his mother.
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