Four-year old Xiao Long, or Little Dragon in Chinese, lives in China’s south-west province of Yunnan. He was born with congenital bilateral cataract and also suffers from the eye conditions amblyopia (weak eye sight) and nystagmus (jumping eye balls). When we first met Xiao Long, he was very shy and hid behind his grandma.
The family discovered Xiao Long had a problem with his vision when he was a baby. His father Kai-wen Gu said Xiao Long would stare at objects like a light bulb for a long time. He would try to reach things but fail. Sometimes he would fall when he walking.
I know his eyes are not normal but I do not know how to fix them. Am I worried? I don’t know what to worry about because I don’t have a solution.
- Kai-wen Gu, father of Xiao Long
Kai-wen, 31, and his wife are factory workers in Guangdong Province, which is a day’s drive away from home. They only return home once a year during Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, leaving their grandparents to care for Xiao Long and his two-year-old sister. The couple is the sole bread winner in the family and they have to take care Kai-wen’s parents as well.
“We are not educated. I don’t know what to do,” Kai-wen repeated many times. But he knows that it is getting more difficult for Xiao Long to see.
Xiao Long clings to his grandmother Hui-ying Zhang and wants her to carry him wherever she goes, even to sleep in the bed they share. Xiao Long loves drawing circles on paper but sometimes draws on his hand. To see his creations, he lifts the paper close to his eyes. Xiao Long also loves riding his bicycle but is unable to do this outside in case he falls off.
Xiao Long sometimes ventures outside to visit other children in the village and grandma carries him on her back on a four-hour return journey to the market.
About a year ago, Kai-wen brought Xiao Long to the local county hospital where the doctor said his son had a congenital problem which could not be solved. But later, a team from The Fred Hollows Foundation’s partner hospital, The People’s Hospital of Wenshan Prefecture visited the village and organised an operation.
Even though the state covered most of the cost of the surgery, which is around HKD$20,000, the family can barely afford Xiao Long’s operation. The doctor also recommends a better quality, imported intraocular lens (IOL) which is not covered by the state. The Fred Hollows Foundation supports by covering the costs of the IOL.
Kai-wen is anxious about the costs but determined to support his son. But he is not very clear about the surgery.
“How long will the IOL last? Do we need to change it several years later? A motorcycle only works for several years. Will the IOL wear out a few years later?”
“If I do not have money, I will find ways to borrow. When Xiao Long’s eyes recovered, we will let him go to school. If he studies well, I will support him whatever it takes.”
Before cataract surgery at the hospital, the doctor cautions that because of Xiao Long’s amblyopia and nystagmus, he may not enjoy perfect eye sight. But when the patches are removed, Xiao Long reaches for the toy the doctor gave him and starts stacking blocks. He can now play with his toy cars by himself.
Xiao Long will need still need to place objects close to his eyes in order to see. The doctor advises that Xiao Long can start wearing glasses three months after the operation, and the chances of going to school is very high when he is old enough.
Xiao Long can now enjoy his childghood like any other children. He plays with his little sister which he never did before. He can also eat by himself and goes to the bathroom alone. Xiao Long finds happiness which is invaluable.