Den's story

Den's story

In her modest house in Central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, 82-year-old Tran Thi Den has almost everything she needs to live a healthy independent life – until her world became dark because of cataract.

Den’s blurry vision slowly started to chip away at her independence. She coped as best as she could until she fell in her own home. She started using a walking stick but struggled to do basic tasks like plug in electrical appliances and cook in her dark, smoky kitchen. Her family knew it was no longer safe for her to live on her own.

After living alone for 45 years, blindness threatened to take Den’s independence.

Luckily, one of Den's neighbours told her about a community eye screening near her home – organised by The Fred Hollows Foundation, Quang Nam Eye Hospital and the Association of Older People. The screening is vital for the many older people who cannot afford treatment, are unaware it is available or feel they are too old to have their vision improved.

Den was diagnosed with cataract in both eyes and scheduled for surgery the next day at Quang Nam Eye Hospital.


The Foundation has a long history in Vietnam. Fred Hollows first arrived there in 1992 with plans to help local surgeons improve their cataract surgery skills.  

The team learned that only 50 “modern” cataract surgeries were being performed in Vietnam per year by just two eye surgeons. Fred asked the surgeons if they wanted to learn the new techniques and they were overwhelmingly keen.  

Fred made a promise to return to Vietnam and train the country’s ophthalmologists. 

He famously checked himself out of hospital when he was gravely ill with cancer to return and keep his promise to train ophthalmologists in modern cataract surgery techniques. 

Over the next few years, despite Fred’s death, more than 300 Vietnamese eye doctors were trained in modern surgical techniques. 


Today, an estimated 73 percent of people living with avoidable vision impairment are older people. Vietnam has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world and its older people are increasingly affected by vision loss. 

In people aged over 50 years in Vietnam, cataract is the most common cause of blindness. Many people are afraid of surgery, cannot afford treatment, are unaware it is available or feel they are too old to have their vision improved.

Women continue to shoulder 56 percent of vision loss cases in older people. And the repercussions extend far beyond the individual. Caregivers of people with vision loss, usually women and girls, often grapple with the challenging task of balancing their needs with those of older family members experiencing vision loss, which can lead to anxiety and depression and lost opportunities for education or earning a livelihood.



When Den’s patch was removed, her entire face lit up with joy. She was delighted with the result and couldn’t wait to tell her friends and family. 

“I said to my friends that my eye is clearer now – I’m very happy with my surgery.”  

“Now I’d like to visit my neighbours and my grandchildren – and I can live alone in my home.”  

At 82, there is still so much Den wants to see and do. And thanks to your support, she can. 

“I will take care of my grandchildren. I want them to grow strong and healthy and study well, get a good job and income, then get married and be happy,” she said.