It was the end of a two week-long surgical visit to the Philippines in 2013 when the Foresight team first met Helen Binwican and three of her six children.
The four of them were totally blind from congenital cataracts. Helen’s two daughters, Levelyn and Evelyn, were 13 and 10 at the time and her son, Elvin was 11.
They live in a small village, an hour’s drive out of Santiago City, in northern Luzon, where Foresight bases its Philippines operations. The Binwican family are very poor and had been unable to afford medical treatment. Benito, Helen’s husband, works as a rice cropper at their neighbour’s farm.
“Helen’s 14-year-old daughter, who could see, had the job of looking after all of the family, including two sighted babies,” recalls Foresight’s medical adviser, team leader and board member, A/Professor Geoffrey Painter.
“She had to lead her mother, who had been blind since she was a child, and her three blind siblings everywhere, including the toilet whenever they were away from their home. They were totally dependent on her.”
The family were assessed and measured for cataract surgery by the Foresight team, but all had a condition called micropthalmia and all had very small eyes and, unfortunately, the team didn’t have the specific equipment or intraocular lenses to help on that visit.
“We made a promise to them that we would go home to Australia, source the appropriate intraocular lenses and equipment needed to operate on them and return to them as soon as possible to give them the gift of sight,” says Geoffrey.
Fundraising for the trip was undertaken and with special lenses donated by the supplier and a generous donor helping fund the trip, two months later the team returned to keep its promise.
“After operating on one eye of each of them and two days later the other eye, we were thrilled that by the end of the week, we saw signs of success! All of them could see significantly better and were able to get around independently while some achieved very good levels of vision, especially Helen and Evelyn,” says Geoffrey.
During Foresight’s most recent surgical visit to the Philippines in October, the team decided to visit the Binwican family to see how their life was, four years on.
The family shed tears of happiness when the team arrived. Helen now works as a house helper in Santiago City and is able to earn an income to help support her family, which previously survived on very little. The children all went to school for a while and Evelyn has continued having just started high school while Levelyn is looking after the home and Elvin is assisting Benito in the rice fields.
Although their living conditions were extremely simple, they were very thankful for the care and restored sight they received in 2013. Their lives have been transformed.