The following is a postcard from Neeharika Tummala, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in India, about her recent visit to Aravind Eye Foundation.
Aravind is a center that I have always wanted to visit given its famous work in cataract surgeries. They are a known worldwide for their processes and training that allow them to do a cataract surgery in minutes, allowing them to serve hundreds of patients everyday for free. But this particular project funds some of the most expensive surgeries in eye care – surgeries for retinoblastoma, which typically affects children under the age of 5. I was most surprised by the fact that the 4 families I met were from all over India, coming from as far as Jharkhand, which is 3 states north! When I asked them as to why Aravind, they said that they were recommended by their local doctors and had heard about the affordability and the quality of care. I even met a family from Orissa, a state two states north, who travel back and forth for chemo treatments.
I was really touched by the stories of the families whose children had either already had surgery or were undergoing chemotherapy. One of the kids there, who was undergoing chemo, looked completely normal, without any bulge seen by the eye, which is typically the tumor. The father was completely conflicted as he wanted to prolong chemo in the hope of saving his sons eye, versus surgery which the doctors have recommended. He told me ‘it’s so hard to opt for surgery that will make my son potentially loose sight when he still has 20/20 vision and it doesn’t look like there is anything wrong with him’. It made me realize how difficult the entire ordeal is for families, which makes it all the more important to have a great support team around you. All the families had only good things to say about the Aravind doctors and nurses and I couldn't agree more.
One of the most impressive people that I've ever met is Dr. Usha, the founder of Aravind's Ring of Hope. Ring of Hope provides free treatment to kids with retinoblastoma (an often fatal form of eye cancer). This year the Ring of Hope is ten years old and has treated 1300 patients and provided on-going counseling to the patients and their families. All free of charge, thanks to your donations.
Dr. Usha and her team have helped many patients recover from eye cancer, but sometimes children do lose their sight, sometimes their lives. "Sometimes, I go into my office and cry," said Dr. Usha.
One such patient was Christina -- just two-years old, when she first came to Aravind. She was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in both eyes. Her father was a daily wage worker in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, in southern India, making about $1 a day, and her mother was a housewife. Neither were educated. In India, a full treatment for retinoblastoma (chemotheraphy, surgery, radiation, possible prosthetics) costs about $1000 per eye. Definitely beyond the means of Christine's family.
Ultimately, both eyes had to be removed to save Christina's life. She was fitted with custom-made prosthetic eyes, and she and her family received counseling from Aravind. All her treatment expenses were met through the Ring of Hope, and she continues her follow-up every year at Aravind without fail. Christina is now seven years old, and in her second year in a school for the blind. She is renowned for her beautiful singing voice.
Dr. Usha, her team, and I send a big thank you for helping Christina and other children like her. This is the tenth anniversary of the Ring of Hope -- what do you think we should do to celebrate? Can you help?
Warmest regards, Donna Campbell,
Executive Director, Aravind Eye Foundation
You probably think that your donation helps one blind person, maybe two or three. Wrong!
Blindness affects an entire family. If a father is blind, his family has no livelihood. If a grandmother is blind, someone needs to stay home from school or work to take care of her. If a child is blind, she may never go to school, get a job, or get married. Your donation goes much, much farther than you think.
Now in its tenth year, Aravind's Ring of Hope Fund pays for treatment of patients -- primarily children -- who suffer from retinoblastoma, a life and sight-threatening form of eye cancer. Last year, 430 patients received free surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and custom-prostheses, bringing the total number of patients helped to more than 1300. Thank you!
Aravind provides not only free treatment to the patient, but support to the whole family. Often patients come to Aravind with other family troubles – unemployment, other illnesses, money problems – the doctors and sisters at Aravind bring hope to everyone involved.
Sathish and his family are a typical Ring of Hope story. His parents brought Sathish to Aravind Eye hospital when he was just two years old. Both eyes were affected with retinoblastoma, and his left eye had to be removed to keep the cancer from spreading. Around the same time Sathish’s father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died shortly thereafter.
Sathish and his mother were devastated by his father’s death – and left without an earning member of the family. Under these difficult conditions, Sathish’s mother found it nearly impossible to continue his treatment. Ring of Hope stepped in and paid for all Sathish’s treatment expenses, plus the family’s food and travel. Sathish was fitted with a custom prosthetic to replace his left eye, and received chemotherapy to save his right eye.
Today, Sathish is free from cancer and excelling in second grade. His mother passed her government exams, and was appointed Village Administrative Officer. The family is grateful to Global Giving donors who helped them through a very tough time.
Hopefully, in the last 12 months. Even simple eye conditions can lead to loss of sight if left untreated.
More than 70% of India’s population lives in rural areas, with little access to eye care. Usually there is no resident eye doctor, and you might have to travel 200 miles to have your vision checked or to buy eyeglasses.
This is why Aravind created the Spectacles for Scholars program. Last year, Aravind’s Spectacles for Scholars program screened 40,000 plus children and provided eyeglasses for more than 5,000 students, who could not afford them otherwise. But that is really the tip of the iceberg! The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide more than 12 million children, ages 5 to 15, are visually impaired and need to have glasses.
Originally, our Spectacles for Scholars program could only serve schools near our Madurai hospital. But thanks to your generous donations, we have expanded the program to our hospitals in Coimbatore, Salem and Theni. Aravind doctors and nurses provide free screening of school children and also train teachers to recognize the signs of poor vision, before it starts to affect a child's academic performance. Often, the results are miraculous -- a child goes from failing in school to straight A's just because he can see the chalk board or she can read her text book.
In 2014, we will be expanding the program to all ten of our hospitals in southern India, more than doubling the number of children screened and ensuring that more than 10,000 children receive new eye glasses. We hope we can count on your support to help us reach this ambitious goal!
The pediatric cancer ward at Aravind Eye Hospital-Madurai is a bright, bustling place. Volunteers have painted vividly colored murals on the walls of the playroom and patient ward, featuring favorite characters from comics and movies. Dr. Usha, who presides over the ward with grace and calm, wears beautiful saris and has a smile for every one of her young patients.
Most of the children here are suffering from retinoblastoma -- a virulent form of eye cancer that affects primarily children under the age of 5. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential, but, sadly, in rural India, that is not usually the case. Lack of awareness means that Dr. Usha and her staff frequently see extremely advanced cases of retinoblastoma. Then, there is no option but to remove the eye in order to save the child’s life. And, in some cases, it may still be too late.
Two-year old Nagoor Meeran (name changed) came to Aravind Eye Hospital-Madurai, with a painful red eye. When he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, his parents refused to believe it and hesitated to start treatment. They said that they would come back for a follow-up visit in a week. They never showed up -- the hospital staff tried to contact them by phone, but no one answered their calls. Two different families who had children with retinoblastoma contacted the parents to try to convince them of how important it was to get treatment. But Nagoor’s family was still reluctant to visit the hospital.
Nagoor’s condition worsened over time, and finally, his parents brought him to the hospital. His mother begged the nurse to forget her mistake in not bringing the child to the hospital earlier. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread. Nagoor Meeran had surgery, and returned to the hospital for six cycles of chemotherapy as scheduled. His parents also brought his sisters in for examination, since some retinoblastoma has a genetic cause. All of Nagoor’s treatment expenses were met through Ring of Hope Fund. A very happy ending thanks to our GlobalGiving donors.
Lack of awareness about retinoblastoma remains a serious problem in rural India. Working with Dr. Usha, Aravind created video about retinoblastoma to help educate the community about diagnosis and treatment of this terrible disease.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.