In 2013, Bray, an active 17 year old, lost his sight in both eyes. His brother, Dura said, “At first we didn’t believe him, we joked that he paddled his canoe like an inland man – bumping into bushes on the river bank!”
Bray’s sight was limited to light and dark shades. The once capable fisherman, soccer player and student dropped out of school and other activities he loved. Bray’s existence was confined to familiar surroundings as he depended on family to lead him around the village, help him eat and help him dress.
When Bray first lost his sight, his family took him to their closest hospital in Oro Bay and asked if anything could be done for his eyesight. The glimmer of hope that Bray and his family was given, was that soon the YWAM Medical Ship would be visiting Oro Province, and on board there will be eye specialists that may be able to help Bray regain his sight.
“We waited and prayed for the ship to come for three years. We knew that the ship coming to our village might help Bray get his sight back,” said Dura.
The waiting ceased last month when the MV YWAM PNG dropped anchor in Oro Province. Working in collaboration with Oro Provincial Health, YWAM Medical Ships’ primary health care, optometry, dentistry, and community engagement teams visited 21 villages along the Oro coast. One of the villages visited by the optometry team was Bray’s village, Emo.
Bray waited in line with Dura for a few hours before he was seen by Fred Hollows ophthalmic registrar, Theresa Gende, who had teamed up with YWAM’s eye team. Theresa found that Bray had cataracts in both eyes, an opacity of the lens of the eye that sits just behind the pupil. But there was a hope – Bray was a surgical candidate.
Bray and Dura visited the MV YWAM PNG the following week for a consult with YWAM’s ophthalmology team.
Dr Bill Talbot, an Ophthalmologist from Townsville, volunteering onboard the MV YWAM PNG, saw Bray for his initial assessment prior to performing the surgery.
Dr Talbot said, “The cataracts obscured the back of his eyes which could mask additional causes of poor vision.”
“This presentation was something myself and other specialists onboard had sadly seen in other young cataract patients in PNG, so my team and I were not at all certain how successful the surgery would be. We didn’t want to hold out false hope for Bray but on the other hand, were desperate to try.”
“My heart went out to Bray – to lose sight so young is heartbreaking. His blindness not only impacted his life, but his entire family, particularly his primary carer, brother Dura,” said Dr Talbot.
On 7 June Bray went into surgery for cataract removal with a lens implant, a procedure which took 40 minutes.
Bray and his brother returned the next day for their moment of truth. YWAM Medical Ships’ Ophthalmology Clinic Leader, RN Ella Bouman, gently peeled away the patch and wiped his eye. A sheepish smile emerged from Bray’s face when Ella asked if he could see. She held up her hand for a high five – he high fived her back!
Dura came over to Bray to see the result, as Dura bent down in front of him, a smile erupted from Bray’s face. Dura put his hand on his cheek and spoke to him in their language, they smiled together and shared a moment of joy – Bray’s sight had returned.
Dura said, “This was such a special gift to us. I can’t wait to bring him home to see the rest of the family after so long. I think they will be so surprised and will cry!”
Dr Talbot, thrilled with the results of the operation said, “the result was fantastic and an absolute joy to see. Within less than 24 hours, Bray went from being blind in both eyes and heavily dependent on others to being able to see again. Now he is a totally different person to the nervous young man guided into our clinic on day one.”
“We so easily forget how much our lives rely on vision until we meet someone who has lost it. Bray has a whole new life in front of him now,” said Dr Talbot.
A second operation was performed on his other eye a few days later, improving his vision even more.
“It’s such a joy to witness his recovery and to see him interacting with others and engaging with life onboard the ship. I challenged Bray to a game of Jenga three days after surgery!”
“Bray’s successful surgery is the result of an incredible team effort – the volunteers, national and provincial governments, local health workers, and donors have all played their part in this miracle – we rejoice in the outcome, and remain encouraged to keep going,” said Dr Talbot.
Bray is looking forward to returning to school, playing soccer and touch football, and watching the State of Origin for the first time in years.
At 17 years-old, Bray is a picture of hope and longing fulfilled. The light and sparkle in his face illuminates YWAM Medical Ships motto, “I want to live”.