We’ve seen many heart-breaking examples of avoidable blindness, but Thol and her family were one of the most devastating. What's incredible is how fast her life turned around.
Thol was living with her four children, Chang, 18, Jay, 13, Thas, 8, and baby Cheet. When she was pregnant with Cheet, she developed cataract blindness in both eyes. If that wasn’t bad enough, her husband abandoned her – he didn’t want a wife who was blind.
With four children to support, Thol found herself alone and reliant on her children for her food and care. She couldn’t work or move around freely so she spent her days isolated in their makeshift home – a tiny bamboo structure balanced on a wooden platform to keep the floodwater at bay.
There was barely any shelter: when it rained, the family huddled under a rickety tin roof and a torn plastic sheet.
How could things have gotten so bad?
Before her operation, Thol and her four children were facing tough circumstances. Her three eldest children couldn’t go to school and spent their days fishing or collecting and selling bags of rubbish for a meagre sum. Thol would stay at home, isolated. Unable to keep an eye on her baby, she'd constantly reach for Cheet, afraid that he would crawl off the platform and hurt himself.
These brave children faced a painful reality every single day. With their mother unable to make a living, they needed to do whatever they could to avoid starvation. Life is cruel for many children, but the shocking part of this situation is how easily it could be changed.
Our supporters helped turn Thol's life around. See how.
34 eye doctors for 15 million people
Thol lived a mere 10 minutes away from the nearest hospital - but there was no eye surgeon.
The history of Cambodia means that today, there is a severe lack of eye-care services. In a country of 15 million people, there are only 34 eye surgeons. For people like Thol, who live in rural areas and who can barely afford the food they eat, travelling to seek help is nearly impossible.
Luckily, Dr Sarath was able to travel to Thol’s town. He’s a young Cambodian surgeon who was trained in cataract surgery with the support of The Fred Hollows Foundation. Now he spends his time restoring sight to as many fellow Cambodians as he can. He wants to do even more because he knows there are so many people like Thol – and for every person like Thol, there are those who depend on them.
They got their mother back
Surgical procedures can take a bit of time to truly show results – but with cataract surgery, the results are almost immediate. Thol had spent years in misery and her children bore the brunt of her blindness. But with a 15 minute operation, their situation was reversed.
Even before her eye patches were removed, Thol knew that her life had changed. As Dr Sarath removed Thol’s patches, her children waited in tense hope. Would they get their mother back?
They had their answer when Thol opened her eyes. She took baby Cheet’s face in her hands and saw him for the first time. “He’s fat!” she exclaimed.
- Thol, after seeing her baby Cheet for the first time in her life
They can be kids again
I'm so happy with my successful surgery...on New Year, I am dancing!
- Thol, recipient of cataract surgery
When Thol could see again, the smiling faces of her beautiful children beamed back at her. But she also saw the condition of her home and surrounds. It shocked her. This wasn’t the life she wanted for her children.
These days, she’s selling vegetables and her older children are going to school. Jay, Thas and Chang don’t have to fight for their survival. They can be kids again. They’re being looked after and baby Cheet is now playing happily under his mother’s watchful eye.