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Diann Edwards was just 13 years old when she was diagnosed with cataract, after a sibling accidentally stuck her in the eye with a rock. The condition, which causes blurred or double vision, sensitivity to light and problems driving at night, completely changed her life.
“I could see from the left eye but couldn’t see from the right eye,” she tells JIS News, adding that the condition affected her ability to read or see things from far distances.
“I used to work on a cotton farm – Jamaica Sea Island Cotton – and the sun and my eye wasn’t agreeing so I had to leave,” she adds.
Fifteen years later, the young woman has hope for a brighter future after recently undergoing successful surgery in Cuba to correct the condition.
She is among the first 50 Jamaicans to benefit under the ‘Miracle Operation’ humanitarian programme between Cuba and Venezeuala. The initiative is part of the Sandino commitment, which sees both countries coming together to offer free healthcare to some six million inhabitants in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next 20 years.
The Miracle Operation programme, which started in Jamaica on August 26, covers the provision of transportation and accommodation in Cuba for qualified eye patients as well as surgery and immediate post-operative care. The Health Ministry contributes to the process by facilitating patients’ follow-up visits at local clinics.
Miss Edwards, who has been a patient at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) for the past two years, says that she was selected by the hospital to undergo the surgery. “I get a call one morning that I was supposed to come to KPH and I was wondering what for, so when I came they said you are going to Cuba so I said okay,” she recalls.
Diann says her experience in Cuba was a good one and during her 13-day stay in the island, she, along with the other patients, “were feted and given world-class medical care”. She notes that the operation to remove the cataract was painless and lasted for a mere 10 minutes.
Now, with the operation behind her, Diann is happy, as she was not able to afford the operation on her own. She is now doing her post-operative care and will receive reading glasses, which will help in the recovery and re-adjustment process. She will also be going back to school.
“I just would like to say thanks to the Ministry of Health and the Cuban government and I am glad that the Jamaican government sees it fit to send us and take up this opportunity to let even some of us experience other places,” she says.
Many other Jamaicans, who suffer from debilitating eye problems and cannot afford the cost of surgeries to correct the conditions, are also slated to benefit under the Sandino programme.
Ophthalmologist, Dr. Calixto Orozco, who is a member of the team of Cuban doctors performing the surgeries, assures that the programme will reach every Jamaican, who has a debilitating eye disease and is unable to afford surgery to correct the condition.
“This programme is for all of the Jamaican people. Everybody will have the same opportunity to go. From the very young patients to the very old, they can be accompanied by a relative who will go free of cost,” the doctor explains, adding that the patients have been receiving medical treatment at one of the best hospitals in Cuba.
In terms of the selection of patients, Dr. Orozco, informs that assessments are being conducted island wide with clinics and other community organizations making referrals to local hospitals where the doctors will visit. He notes that the response to the programme has been tremendous.
He says that recently, “we went to Buff Bay and the health authority, the community, the church, the staff; they were doing a good job and they sent more than 250 people to the hospital. From this, they selected 81 patients, which means that 30 per cent .had an eye condition that needed to go to Cuba,” he says.
Raymond Sterling, who also benefited from surgery to remove cataract, is elated that he can now see as he once could before his eyes went bad.
“I’m in construction and part of my work is tiling and I can tell you because my right eye had in the cataract, it caused the tiles to become unleveled.
Sometimes when I put the level on it (the area to be tiled) I said, ‘it look like I have to stop do this work because it getting to me’,” he says, adding that the disease caused a strain on the unaffected eye.
“After getting the surgery now, it is like everything is back to normal. I can see clearly now,” he says. Mr. Sterling, who is also a patient at the KPH Eye Clinic, tells JIS News that he was selected by the hospital for the surgery.
“I came here (KPH) for treatment but they say they didn’t have any medication at the time for that and I was introduced to the Cuban doctors for treatment and after going there (Cuba), everything there was like in heaven. The treatment that you get you won’t believe it,” he tells JIS News.
He informs that the surgery took a mere eight minutes and that he was out of the hospital in no time. Raymond will now continue his treatment with eye drops he received after surgery and other follow up medications, but the most important advice he received from the doctors is to get a lot of rest to help in the healing process. He has nothing but praises for the programme.
“I think that everybody should be a part of the programme. I don’t know how the Jamaican and Cuban government work it out but I think this is one of the things that should be happening in Jamaica,” he says.
Currently, a team of Cuban doctors is going around the island conducting assessments at health centres and hospitals to select persons with eye conditions to be treated under the programme.
Their schedule for the month of October will see them at the Kingston Public Hospital on Mondays; at the Port Antonio Hospital on Tuesdays; on Wednesdays, they will visit the Port Maria Hospital; and on Thursdays, they will be at the St. Ann’s Bay Hospital and on Fridays the doctors will visit the Mandeville Hospital and the Jamaica Society for the blind.