Mao-ni Wei had forgotten what it meant to have a happy life. With cataracts that rendered her blind, the 26-year old Chinese woman from a village in the Anhui Province in China faced bleak prospects.
It started two years ago. Mao-ni was taking care of her sister’s children when she suddenly fainted. She was diagnosed with diabetes and hepatitis B and during the past two years, her diabetes caused Mao-ni to have cataract.
Before Mao-ni’s illness and resulting blindness, she made a living by looking after her sister’s children. As her eyesight deteriorated, Mao-ni couldn’t perform simple tasks anymore and was sent back to her village. Here, she spent most of her time alone.
I don’t have friends.
- Mao-ni, suffering from cataract blindness
She was afraid of being a burden
All her friends and relatives refused to talk to her because they were afraid that diabetes and cataract were infectious.
She was married twice, but was sent back both times because her in-laws felt there was a stigma attached to her blindness. The pain of this was compounded by the fact that rural Chinese culture often views unmarried women as a ‘burden’ on their families.
Isolated from family and friends, Mao-ni became more and more withdrawn. To make things even harder, her blindness was an impediment to the proper management of her diabetes. “I could not inject insulin myself. I could not do anything. I wanted to die.”
Mao-ni lives with her mother, 51-year-old Zhang Ying. Zhang Ying used to work at a construction site nearby carrying mud and cement, but had to abandon her job to take care of Mao-ni.
Two of Zhang Ying’s sons live next door to them. After Zhang Ying left her job, the family of seven adults and four children had to live on growing crops from the small paddy field in front of their house. With their yearly joint income only RMB10,000, life became very tough.
Her life turned around
During a check-up for her diabetes at the Lixin People’s Hospital in Anhui Province, Mao-ni was treated by a Fred Hollows Foundation-trained eye doctor called Zhang Jin-yang. He realised that Mao-ni’s cataracts could be removed and organised surgery.
Dr. Zhang Jin-yang has been working in the Lixin People’s Hospital in Anhui Province for seven years. He was trained by The Fred Hollows Foundation three years ago and spent three months learning to do cataract surgery in Hefei, the capital of the Anhui Province. His new skills meant that the hospital had someone who could perform cataract surgery and restore sight to those living with avoidable blindness. The training also changed his approach to diagnosing his patients.
“Before the training, we used to wait for patients to come to us. Now we reach out more to the community to raise awareness” said Dr. Zhang.
After two surgeries in a month, Dr. Zhang removed Mao-ni’s cataracts. She was able to see again and all it took was a simple 20-minute operation.
Dr. Zhang said some patients became very depressed when they were blind and struggled with thoughts of their future. But for Mao-ni, her life is now very different. The worry about her future and the stigma she’s suffered – it’s all gone. “I can help at home now. Maybe I can find a job in a factory... I won’t cry anymore.”
These are the happiest days of my life.