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Christmas Comes Early For Vision Impaired In Vanuata


04 October 2011

Christmas Comes Early For Vision Impaired In Vanuata

New Zealand team returns from life-changing outreach

More than 70 vision impaired people in Vanuatu have had their eyesight
restored and can see their family and friends again thanks to an
outreach clinic run by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

Ian Russell, Mary Iakawak and helper. Mary Iakawak is overwhelmed
after realising she can see following cataract surgery.

More than 70 vision impaired people in Vanuatu have had their eyesight
restored and can see their family and friends again thanks to an
outreach clinic run by The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

Christchurch local Ian Russell, co-owner and optometrist at Specsavers
Hornby, was selected to go on the six-day trip to Vanuatu and was blown
away by the reaction of the Vanuatu patients and communities he helped.

"The impact was phenomenal. I think we all expected to see some
wonderful things take place during the outreach but nothing could have
prepared us for the overwhelming sense of joy and celebration that came
from the entire community when they realised someone's sight had been
restored," said Mr Russell.

"Most of the people we saw had been unnecessarily blind or vision
impaired for many years because of cataracts or other treatable
conditions. For some, this was the only opportunity to receive treatment
and that was a very humbling experience. I wanted to do all I could to

Mr Russell joined a team of seven Pacific Island eye doctors and nurses,
which also included fellow Canterbrian ophthalmologist Allan Simpson
from Southern Eye Specialists. The outreach teams performed eyesight
testing and eye surgeries for those with poor vision.

"One lady I saw, Mary Iakawak, had cataracts in both eyes and had been
completely blind for a year and unable to see her young grandchild. She
had travelled by boat and plane to the clinic from her home on Tanna
Island, arriving a month before we got there because she was so eager to
see and knew this was her only hope," said Mr Russell.

"When Mary had the operation and could see again she was absolutely
ecstatic! She almost didn't want to get her hopes up going into the
surgery, but as soon as she was out and we took the bandage off she was
so excited that she was going to be able to cook and look after her
family again."

Dr John Szetu, Director of the Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji headed up
the trip. He has restored sight to more than 20,000 people across the
Pacific in his 20-year career and knows the profound joy you feel when
you have played a part in restoring someone's sight.

"Each screening or surgery has a ripple effect right through these
communities; people get their independence back - they can work again,
look after their families and enjoy all that life has to offer," said Dr

"We were all just so thrilled to give something back to this nation. The
outreach came at just the right time, with Christmas just around the
corner it will truly be a festive celebration to remember for these


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