11 year old Keirwin lives in a poor rural village in the Cagayan Valley in the Philippines with his parents and four brothers. He had cataracts in both eyes and had been blind since birth.
All of Keirwin’s short life had been limited by his disability, one that could have been corrected at a much younger age had Keirwin’s parents been able to afford cataract surgery for him at a private hospital as their local government-run hospital doesn’t offer eye surgery for children.
Keirwin had no choice but to be blind, unable to enjoy his childhood, go to school or keep up with his brothers.
He met the Foresight surgical team during their recent trip as part of the Gift of Sight program which is dedicated to international blindness prevention, operating out of the Adventist Hospital in Santiago City to give blind children and adults sight-saving cataract and other eye surgery that they would otherwise be unable to afford.
“Keirwin’s lenses were totally opaque. He couldn’t even see movement,” recalls Foresight’s medical advisor and director, Associate Professor Geoffrey Painter.
“He was covered in scars from falling down all the time. When we met him he had recently fallen into a ditch and hurt himself badly,” says Geoffrey.
Despite this adversity, Keirwin is by nature a happy boy who just wanted a chance to be like anyone else.
“He tried hard to be a normal child but blindness deprived him of being a child,” says Geoffrey.
Keirwin had been identified by local community health nurses who visited his village, which is a 45 minute drive from the hospital and recommended he be reviewed for surgery by the Foresight team.
The Gift of Sight Program has been running in the Philippines since 2013. Small teams of expert volunteers including nurses, anaesthetists and ophthalmologists make annual trips from Australia and have performed over 400 sight-saving surgeries in an area where the large population, high levels of poverty and lack of comprehensive eye care services have led the region to have one of the highest rates of blindness in the Philippines.
Keirwin’s surgeries were done a day apart. During surgery he required the use of a specialised piece of equipment that had been purchased thanks to donations to Foresight to remove the lenses of his eyes that were cloudy and hard. His defective lenses were replaced with new ones made of a soft, flexible plastic.
“By the end of the operation, his cornea was clear, his lenses were in a great position and everything looked fine. The question is – will Keirwin see? After 11 years of blindness, his brain had never had the input to receive and interpret sight. We just weren’t sure at the time what the long term result might be for him,” says Geoffrey.
Kids like Keirwin are the reason why under our founder, Professor Frank Billson AO started Foresight 35 years ago – to deliver eye surgery, equipment, training, infrastructure and preventative health programs in partnership with local communities to help avoidable blindness in the Asia Pacific region.
Frank’s vision for Foresight has been and always will be to empower locals in every country we have worked with, to set up and run eye clinics and continue the work after the Australian medical volunteers leave.
We need your help this Christmas time to help us raise $55, 500 to train and employ two local eye nurses to carry on our work. Eye nurses play a crucial role by providing ongoing care, testing and education, for many kids just like Keirwin.
“By focusing our efforts on investing in a local nurse who can go out to the communities with modern equipment and up-to-date training to conduct sight tests as well as provide health education to locals, we would be able to get to help more kids like Keirwin. With early intervention, his condition would have been more treatable,” says Geoffrey.
There are potentially 45,000 more people suffering from cataract blindness in the area where Keirwin lives. Vision impairment in the region is double the country’s average.
Nurse Kerrie Legg has made 14 trips with Foresight to the Solomon Islands, China and the Philippines. She was invited to escort Keirwin and his mother back to their village following his surgery.
“We were travelling on the bus together and the first thing I realised was that Keirwin kept looking up at the sky. He had never seen that amount of light before and seemed intrigued by it!” says Kerrie.
On arrival, the villagers came to greet Keirwin off the bus. As they moved towards him, Keirwin was in awe as his brain started to interpret movement for the very first time.
“It was amazing! Seeing Keirwin experience movement and light for the first time made me realise the significance of the whole event from his perspective. It made all our hard work worthwhile,” she says.
Geoffrey and Kerrie are both optimistic that with time Keirwin will be able to enjoy a fuller life, being able to see more and experience more as he grows up.
Please help us give the gift of sight to other children like Keirwin.
Pictured: Keirwin has an eye test after cataract surgery.
Pictured: Keirwin and Kerrie at his home
Pictured: Keriwin back home after surgery with his mum and four brothers.