In Jining city, Shandong Province of China, a 90-year-old Xiuying Hao finally stepped into the surgery room and received treatment to cure her cataract problem, which had been bothering her for 10 years. During these 10 years, because of the financial difficulties and fear for taking surgery, Granny Xiuying Hao was unable to get the treatment. This caused her living in the dark for a long time and not being able to take care of herself.
Granny Hao, who was not able to see clearly, was directed to the ward by the hospital staffs in Jing Hua Eye Hospital which is located in Shandong province in China. Before the surgery, she was repeating the sentence “I am not afraid of the surgery, and I am not nervous at all”. Yet, she was holding the nurse’s hand so tightly and would not let go for a second. Her expressions showed that she was worried for the surgery yet very excited to gain back her sight. Based on what was told by her family, due to the concerns of the associated risks of the surgery and the potential financial burden for the family, Granny Hao, like many other cataract patients in rural areas, chose to bear the suffering. That includes: not able to step out of the house, groping in the yard with limited sight, and no choice but to wait to be taken care of by other family members. Right before the surgery, a journalist asked Granny Hao what would be her wish once she regained the sight, and she said: “I really want to watch TV”.
Back in August 2015, Jing Hua Eye Hospital, a private-run medical institution in Jining city and HelpMeSee, a non-profit organization, initiated a free clinic activity in the Sun Village where Granny Hao dwelled. After the screening, Granny Hao’s situation was noticed by the two parties, and they decided to schedule a free surgery treatment for her. After 10-years, the turning point for Granny Hao finally arrived. However, she was afraid of taking the surgery, so she rejected the opportunity to regain sight in August. After serval months, she finally saw hope when she witnessed that many neighbors of her’s had restored sight from the surgeries. Her family decided to revisit Jing Hua Eye Hospital and sought for support and help. The hospital immediately contacted the HelpMeSee China team and received a positive response.
While Granny Xiuying Hao was heading to the hospital for her surgery, Yang Xiao, an ophthalmologist from a well-known public hospital, was taking the high-speed train from Beijing to Jining. He would be the surgeon for Granny Hao’s surgery.
During this time, as a volunteer, Dr. Yang Xiao joined the ‘HelpMeSee’ campaign. He sacrificed his own time on weekends to travel back and forth between Beijing and Jining in order to provide free surgical treatments for those patients that were living in underserved conditions. For Jing Hua Eye Hospital, having assistance from a medical expert from a first-tier city is a tremendous support. According to the figures given by local medical institutions, medical institutions in Jining city are able to deliver about 5,000 cataract surgeries at peak each year based on the statistics gathered from the local medical institutions. However, this number is far below the actual needs of patients.
On one hand, China currently has an uneven distribution of medical resources. Grass-roots areas are limited to the medical level of the ophthalmologists, and therefore unable to carry out surgeries. On the other hand, patients in poor, rural areas do not realize that their eye problems can be cured through proper surgical treatments. They are unable or not willing to bear the cost of the surgery. Many people are afraid of taking surgeries and even if they want to take the surgery, they have to give it up because their children have to work away from home, leading them unaccompanied and therefore resulting in many patients unable to receive treatments in time. The purpose of HelpMeSee partnering with medical institutions in China is to solve this problem.
On the operation table, granny Xiuying Hao was very nervous so she grabbed the nurse’s hands tightly. Doctor Yang Xiao was very cautious the whole time. Although the technical level cataract surgery is quite mature, due to venerable age of Granny Hao, the risk of complications of surgery and intraoperative difficulty increased correspondingly. Also, because there were some additional eye diseases that the patient had, many difficulties arose during the surgery. This led the original 5-10 minutes surgery to last longer than 20 minutes.
At 5:50PM, the surgery was finally completed with success. Granny Hao, who was still lying on the bed, immediately smiled as soon as she was able to feel the light coming into her eyes. The lights in which had been absent for so long.
December 6 th, at 09:16AM, Dr. Yang Xiao took off the protective eyewear for Granny Hao, and now a sight that seemed clearly visible for her. When told that the support for surgery was from an international non-profit organisation, Xiuying Hao was so excited. She directed to the side of her daughter-in-law and said: “They got me cured and I have to thank them. When I go back to the village, I have to spread their name around!”.
HelpMeSee and Jing Hua Eye Hospital have already completed the first pilot programme. They refer the Chinese official standards of low-income and poverty population and regard household income of less than $ 20,000 as a benchmark to measure the need for assistance. They will offer patients, who hold low assurance, certificate of disability, laid-off certificate, and other related low-income supportive documents, surgeries free of charge.