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Once blind, now we see

Serafina Silaitoga
Friday, November 16, 2012

THEY were born blind into a world of darkness and could only feel the love of their parents by their touch.

The assuring voices, cuddles and guiding hands of their mothers were all they had to connect them to the world they lived in for four years.

This week Joji Qarimanu of Kalekana outisde Lami and Maria Teresia of Nawaido in Bua were able to see the smiling faces of the women whose hands they held on for life.

They let go of them and ran to celebrate their sight, thanks to world-renowned American eye surgeon, Doctor Jeff Rutgard, who operated on them at the Taveuni Hospital on Sunday.

When Dr Rutgard peeled the plaster off their eyes, the two children were given the best gift they have ever had.

Tears and shouts of joy filled the Children's Ward.

"Io, io, io ... au sa marau (yes, yes, yes ... I'm so happy)," Joji yelled when asked about his eyes.

Relatives of Maria couldn't hold back their tears as they thanked Dr Rutgard, his team and the Rotary Club of Taveuni for an early Christmas present.

Dr Rutgard said the two children had cataract over their pupils from birth.

"What we have done is help restore their eyesight and simply giving them opportunities of finding employment and a life lived by other people who have good eyesight," he said.

"If they didn't receive this operation, the world may remain a place of no opportunities for them. I thank God for using my team to help restore their eyesight."

Not a single moment has been wasted by the two since Sunday. Yesterday, Joji, who travelled from Lami to Taveuni for the operation, ran up and down the hospital corridor while Maria sat on her mother's lap and sang songs, clapping her hands.

Maria nodded her head and smiled when Dr Rutgard sat beside her.

"Tanku (thank you)," was all she could whisper.

Dr Rutgard, the director of Eye Mission for the Hawaiian Eye Foundation and an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Taveuni, encouraged the 250 patients to hold dear their walk with God.

"We are here to serve God. I am a full-time humanitarian worker which means all my surgeries are charitable. I have done more than 7000 around the world, including in Fiji. I travel more to Fiji than other parts of the world."

Rotary Club of Taveuni president Geoff Amos said the eye operation project for the past eight years had been a success and the demand continued to increase.

"This year we covered Bua and Saqani," Mr Amos said, adding that cataracts remain one of the main causes of blindness for villagers.

"We are reaching out more to rural areas because they genuinely need our help and we thank the Rotary Foundation, Vodafone ATH Fiji Foundation and the Fiji Society for the Blind."

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