They avoided a lifetime of blindness thanks to the global project of Tej Kohli and Dr Sanduk Ruit
It took Parasa Thapa a lot of courage to embark on a journey into the unknown with just one hundred Nepalese rupees in her pocket. That small amount of change – about $1.35 – was all of the money that Parasa had to her name. But as a mother, she knew that she needed to do something to help her two young daughters, who were both slowly going blind.
Life had been a series of misfortune events for 45-year-old Parasa. Seven years ago, she lost her husband, a migrant worker in India, to an unknown disease. Parasa received the news of her husband’s demise from other villagers. She was unable to see him for one last time or to perform his last rites. With just a hut, a goat, and a small plot of land to her name, Parasa tried to make do. Then came the floods of 2021, which washed away her plot of land, leaving her with no food for the rest of the year.
Compounding these hardships was the fact that her two daughters, Reshma (13) and Kunti (7) complained of deteriorating visual impairment. It was only a matter of time before they would both become completely blind.
Other villagers told Parasa that the whitening of the eyes of her two daughters was a curse on her family. The same curse that had taken away her husband and her land. She did not believe them.
Parasa believed in goodness and hoped that some kind of intervention would arrive. Little did she know that Tej Kohli and Dr Sanduk Ruit were planning a microsurgical outreach camp in her region as part of their mission to cure between 300,000 and 500,000 cataracts blindness, with an additional goal to reduce the incidence of childhood congenital cataracts in Nepal by 25%.
When Parasa heard about an upcoming eye camp in her district, she immediately sprang into action. She sold the little amount of ghee (clarified butter) that the goat had given her and patiently waited for the day of the camp to arrive.
On 10th December 2021, Parasa set out early with her daughters Reshma and Kunti. The first rays of the sun were breaking through as they left home, and they were the first people to arrive at the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation screening camp in Chainpur, Bajhang. After an eye health specialist assessed her case, it was confirmed that both of the sisters were suffering from congenital cataracts. And that they could be cured.
Parasa’s eyes lit with hope.
After a preliminary investigation by the attending Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation doctor, Parasa was advised that her daughters’ congenital cataracts were too complex to be operated on at the camp and that she would need to take her daughters to Dhangadi for surgery, a ten-hour drive away.
On 25th December 2021, after the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation completed the last of its 560 surgeries to cure blindness in one of the most underserved districts of Nepal, a team member from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation called Parasa and told her to get ready, as a car would be coming to her village to pick her and her daughters up to take them to Dhangadi for surgery.
Parasa, Reshma and Kunti were reticent at first. The furthest that Parasa had ever travelled from her home was just a few miles. This time, they would have to leave the hills and make their way to the plains. Nevertheless, they took the plunge and thanks to the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation team, the trio reached Geta Eye Hospital in Dhangadi after a ten-hour drive.
They were given room to stay and the next day, the medical team reassessed Reshma and Kunti’s case, and then in the evening performed the surgery. Three days later and still at the hospital, both girls were visibly nervous as they waited for their eye patches were to be removed. Reshma was fidgety, and seven-year-old Kunti clutched to her mother.
Dr Panta who had performed the surgery the previous day slowly removed the bandages – starting with Reshma’s. Reshma was stunned. The fact that her sight had been restored slowly registered in her mind. She was able to tell the doctor that she was able to see clearly again after just a few moments of adjustment.
Kunti too was stunned as her eye patches were removed and she once again saw the world. She smiled almost instantly – finally getting a clear view of her mother, and her surroundings.
The joys of their mother Parasa knew no bounds. She silently wept as she lovingly looked at her two daughters. “A huge weight has been lifted from my heart,” she said. “Amongst all the hardships I had to endure, my daughters’ blindness pained me the most. I am so thankful — to God, to the doctors, and to everyone who helped my two daughters to see again”.
For the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, the journey is far from over. After completing almost 10,000 life-transforming surgeries during 2021, in 2022 Tej Kohli and Sanduk Ruit continue in their mission to cure 300,000 to 500,000 cataract blindness by 2026.