I guess sight has always been something I’ve taken for granted; I’ve never really given it a second thought and have never really had to. It was only yesterday that I began to grasp the true importance of sight; how being able to see can change someone’s entire world.
I have been on outreach with YWAM Medical Ships – Australia (YWAM MSA) in the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea for less than a week; yesterday I had the honour of observing the ophthalmology team and was able to get to know some of their patients. As cliché as it sounds, yesterday quickly became a life-changing experience. As soon as we arrived at the clinic, which is in a small hospital in the village of Kikori, patients began to line the halls outside the clinic, and by mid morning a small crowd had gathered, eagerly waiting to be seen by the doctor. This is when I met Emily.
Emily, a mother of six, is from the village of Mirimalau, which is a significant distance from the clinic in Kikori. She had actually travelled for two hours by boat to reach the clinic, and that was before 8 o’clock in the morning! Emily had an advanced pterygium, often referred to as “surfers eye”, in her right eye. Caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, a pterygium is a growth that covers the white part of the eye and extends to the cornea. I had never heard of pterygia before, however they seem to be pretty common in Papua New Guinea. Sunglasses can help prevent such growths, but in places like the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea, sunglasses are considered a luxury. Access to sunglasses is hard to come by and even if there is access, they remain far too expensive for many to afford.
The longer a pterygium is left untreated, the farther it will grow into the eye, and the more it will affect eyesight. Emily had a pterygium for nearly ten years, causing the pterygium growth to become advanced and making vision a constant struggle for Emily. Sadly, Papua New Guinea lacks many basic health needs; the surgery required to remove the pterygium was a far off dream for Emily and the many others with the same problem.
YWAM MSA’s ophthalmologist on board met with Emily and okayed her for surgery to remove the pterygium from her eye. I sat with Emily later that afternoon as she waited for the surgery, her face a picture of serenity. A few times a smile would slide across her face, though she would quickly catch the edges again. When the nurse led her in for her surgery, her excitement was not as easily masked; she walked in with a Cheshire grin framing her delicate face.
Today Emily returned for her post operation assessment. Although her vision would get better as time goes on, it had already drastically improved. There are no words to describe the feeling you get when a miracle unfolds in front of your own eyes; Emily was able to read the eye chart six metres in front of her when the day before, this seemed impossible.
When she was thanked for travelling so far to get to the clinic, Emily softly replied, “It’s important; it’s about life”. Today Emily taught me that having the gift of sight is about life: it changes life, brings a quality of life, means Emily can clearly see the faces of her six children, and means that her life is not controlled by the lack of vision. Sight means freedom. Emily’s entire world has now been changed, and with that, so has mine.
Written by Lucy Kyle