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The changes you can make with a monthly donation The changes you can make with a monthly donation

The changes you can make with a monthly donation

Hong Kong people are famous for their charitable hearts. Wherever there is need,  we immediately offer a helping hand without any hesitation. Among all charitable organisations in Hong Kong, why choose to donate to The Fred Hollows Foundation? Let us share with you a story from Lao PDR to see how ending avoidable blindness can change a patient’s life and help the community.

Patients need dignity
Juan lives in the Oudomxay Province in north western Lao PDR, which is three hours away from the major city.
Juan is 58 years old and first noticed a problem with her eyes four years ago.
“I went to the paddy field and it felt like something was in my eye that I couldn’t get out. It became like a wall,” she said, describing the decreasing vision she has experienced over the past four years.
The once active Juan is now confined to her house, rarely venturing outside. She cannot work, she cannot cook, she cannot contribute to her family or to her village. She has become dependent. 

“I just stay home. I used to plant corn. I used to fish with the net and I would cook. Now I cannot find food. I have to wait for someone from my family to bring me food. I cannot go anywhere. I cannot do anything.”
- Juan, cataract patient
 Juan now also sleeps on the kitchen floor. The house is in the typical style of rural Lao PDR - wooden planking, thatched roof and elevated above the steep ground. The kitchen is separated from the main dwelling by stairs which are too dangerous for her to negotiate. Juan’s life is very lonely.

Providing essential services on the ground
Juan’s family is very poor and cannot afford transport or the surgery fee to city hospital. The Fred Hollows Foundation organised mobile eye camps to visit Juan’s village.
“My team came to this village to do house-to-house screening and met Juan,” says Dr Phetsamone Indara, an ophthalmologist who works with The Foundation. “They recommended she go to the provincial hospital but she is from a poor family so cannot go.”
So instead, Dr Phetsamone goes to Juan. The alternative is to do nothing which, as Professor Fred Hollows once said, is not an alternative.
Mobile care is also a concept championed by Fred Hollows: taking eye care to the people and not expecting that people living in poverty in developing countries will have the ways or means to travel—sometimes hundreds of kilometres—to reach health care facilities and then pay for a health service.
“Mobile outreach and surgery is very important in Lao PDR. Poor families can’t afford to travel to district or provincial hospitals. If we have no mobile service, many, many more people will be blind,” Dr Phetsamone said.
It’s not easy getting to Juan’s house. The village is a long way from anywhere. Once off the sealed road near Houn, Dr Phetsamone drives for nearly an hour along a narrow dirt road, through corn and banana plantations, crossing streams and passing through a number of smaller settlements. It would be impossible for a blind woman like Juan to travel this road. The importance of mobile health care is obvious.
The need for outreach is so great that The Fred Hollows Foundation supported more than 4,300 mobile cataract surgeries and an additional 639 cataract surgeries in provincial eye units, across the 10 provinces in Lao PDR in 2018. But with a cataract backlog estimated at nearly 50,000, it is a fraction of what is required.
“We could do mobile eye surgeries for the next 10 years,” he said reflecting on the significant need. But it is why so much effort is made to reach patients like Juan.
Racing time to save every sight

“The left eye can be saved but I can’t fix the right eye,” Dr Phetsamone said. “The left eye has what we call a hyper-mature cataract, but the right eye has had cataract for so long that the lens has dislocated. I can’t fix that here in the village. But I want to save the left eye. If I don’t, in a few years it will be like the right eye.”

Urgent need for medical facilities and to train more eye doctors

Dr Phetsamone and his assistant Khamthan Amath unload a ute and set up a makeshift operating room in the community meeting house in Juan’s village. It is dark and there is no electricity. For power, Dr Phetsamone removes the battery from his ute and connects it to his equipment with alligator clips.
Juan is led in to the room she knows so well from village meetings and lies down on Dr Phetsamone’s portable operating table, surrounded by the boxes and cases that moments before had housed the equipment. Watching eye surgery take place in such a way and in the remoteness of Juan’s village is surreal. Yet it wouldn’t happen any other way.

英德拉醫生從車子拿出電池,接駁手術儀器。Juan's village is so remote Dr Phetsamone needs to use his car battery to power his surgical equipment

Changing the lives of patients
Thirty minutes later, the operation is complete. Dr Phetsamone packs up his equipment, replaces the car battery, and lets Juan rest. He moves to a nearby waterhole and eats his packed lunch, has a quick swim and waits.
Two hours later he returns to the meeting house and removes the bandage from Juan’s left eye. Juan lets out a joyful and surprised cry.
“This is the first time I have seen clearly in four years!” she says. A crowd of children has gathered around her, eager to see the transformation in this lady they knew only as being blind, frail and dependent. Juan immediately sets about trying to identify them, straining to recognise now older faces and to see for the first time the younger ones she knows only by voice.
“I can see now,” she says. “I will make Lao wine. I can cook my own food!”
Dr Phetsamone is obviously happy with the outcome. “I know that if we didn’t come here, she would be blind for the rest of her life,” he said.
But he is still concerned about Juan’s right eye and will now seek ways to bring her to the provincial hospital where he can operate with a full team and equipment – and without needing to remove the battery from his car.
“I am proud to be a partner in her life. But I am only one partner, we need many partners to really help,” Dr Phetsamone said.
This is how you can help The Fred Hollows Foundation to change the lives of patients and many more communities.

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