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.