Hope in sight

Growing up an orphan in Cambodia’s Kandal Province, Hou Ly Vathana, 13, has never seen his parents.

As a newborn, Vathana was left at an orphanage and cataracts in both eyes severely limited his sight before he had even learnt to walk.

“I have never seen the face of my mother or father,” Vathana said. “I have lived at the orphanage since I was a few months old and have not been able to see since that time.”

Vathana was blind due to congenital cataracts, with complete loss of sight in his right eye and seriously deteriorating vision in his left eye.

“It was hard to walk, hard to play with my friends and it was hard being seated a long way from the blackboard because I could not see well,” he said.

But Vathana’s despair turned to hope with the opportunity of vital laser surgery following a visit to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital (KSFH) in Phnom Penh.

“I was so scared of surgery and general anaesthesia, but I was most scared by the loss of sight forever,” he said.

Vathana’s sight was restored by a skilled surgeon at the KSFH’s Paediatric Eye Clinic and when the patches were removed from his eyes, his new view of the world generated a big, wide smile.

Vathana is just one example of the way in which Sight For All, through the setting up of specialised eye clinics and the training of surgeons, is improving the eye health of thousands of disadvantaged Cambodian children every year.

The KSFH’s Pediatric Eye Clinic is the only one of its kind in Cambodia, with hospitals around the country regularly referring cases to paediatric ophthalmologists Dr Kheng and Dr Soleaphy for screening.

 “An average of 1,400 children access the clinic every year,” said Dr Kheng.

“Without support from Sight For All and the Australian people, thousands of Cambodian children with eye problems would stay blind or gradually continue to go blind.”

Dr Kheng and Dr Soleaphy both completed Sight For All-sponsored Paediatric Ophthalmology Fellowships in August 2018.

Dr Kheng also spent two months in an enhanced Paediatric Ophthalmology Observership at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney with Dr Craig Donaldson and Dr Michael Jones.

Dr Kheng’s time in Australia was funded by a range of supporters including Mr Richard Lindsay, Dr Stephen Hing, Dr Craig Donaldson and Mr Manny Stul.

“Without support from Sight For All and the Australian people, thousands of Cambodian children with eye problems would stay blind or gradually continue to go blind”– Cambodian pediatric opthalmologist, Dr Kheng

Cambodian orphan Hou Ly Vathana after treatment with his carer