She couldn’t see the blackboard or walk properly
When Hoa was told that her daughter was having trouble at school, she was devastated. “I cried day and night and worried so much about my daughter’s future.”
Seven-year old Cam lives with her mother Hoa and father Nhat, 25km outside Quang Ngai city in Vietnam. She’d been blind for four years with congenital cataract. A few years ago, Cam’s brother Quoc also had cataract, and the family spent all of their money restoring his sight. When Hoa realised her daughter had the same problem, she found herself unable to eat or sleep properly.
In Vietnam, many people still dont have access to basic eye care.
While eye care in Vietnam has drastically improved over the past 25 years, in regional provinces many people live in relative poverty and don’t have access to basic eye care. Without outreach programs like the ones provided by The Fred Hollows Foundation, many families are in the same predicament as Cam’s.
A doting family
Cam’s father Nhat earns just $6 a day as a seasonal farm labourer. He has to work away from home for nine months of the year leaving Hoa to keep a constant watch on Cam. The family was under considerable financial strain, but they did whatever they could to make Cam’s life more comfortable.
When she was at home, Cam would cling to her mother. Her frustration was clear. She’d squirm impatiently and squint in pain as the sunlight hit her cataracts. Quoc, Cam’s older brother was also affected by Cam’s blindness. Instead of doing homework or playing with other children, he’d take his ‘shift’ and keep an eye on Cam.
Even though she was suffering, Cam’s cheeky and stubborn personality was obvious. She was determined to read and would hold a book one centimeter away from her eyes, forcing the words through her clouded lenses.
Hoa said that while Cam was a spirited little girl at home, when she was away from home, she’d become quiet and withdrawn.
“At school my friends won’t play with me,” Cam said. “They tease me…when I try and join them, they push me out.”
At school my friends won't play with me...when I try and join them, they push me out.
Seeing their child hurting in this way was torture. Nhat and Hoa wanted to do everything to support Cam and allow her to realise her dreams to be a teacher. But they didn’t have the means to restore her sight, and they knew that her education and opportunities in life would be severely hampered.
"I see her like my own child"
Cam was identified for surgery at a Foundation-supported outreach screening camp at her school. When the family learned their daughter would undergo surgery with the help of supporters, they were “unbearably happy”.
We felt unbearably happy and excited...
- Cam's parents, before her cataract surgery
Cam and her father travelled for three hours through pelting rain to Da Nang Eye Hospital. They were met by Dr Ngoc, the head paediatric ophthalmologist at the hospital. With two children of her own, she has a special affinity for cases like Cam’s.
Dr Ngoc echoes the values of The Foundation when she describes how she feels about Cam. “I see her like my own child, and I think she deserves the same opportunities as my children.” Unfortunately, Dr Ngoc knows the equalising benefit of basic eye care is unavailable to so many children around the world.
When Cam’s eye patches are removed 24 hours after her surgery, Dr Ngoc asks Cam if she can see her fingers and instead, Cam grabs her fingers and gives her a high five. Pure relief washes over Nhat. He knows life is going to be very different for his daughter.
A new outlook for Cam
No longer withdrawn, Cam laughs and plays with her friends. She’s no longer clingy and the whole family has a new-found freedom.
For her parents, they’re thankful every day that they don’t have to watch their youngest child struggle. Now they’ll see her grow up with the same opportunities as her peers. And best of all, there’s only one side to Cam now: a spirited, happy one.