Seeing is believing

The Netcare Foundation gives 19 cataract sufferers the gift of sight

Wednesday, October 16 2013

After two years of being confined to her home, yet unable to enjoy her favourite pastime, Mrs Annie Van Zyl (92) of Pretoria took up a needle yesterday and started smocking once again. Mrs Van Zyl is one of 17 people whose cataracts were removed thanks to a joint initiative by the Netcare Foundation, Netcare Bougainville Hospital and opthalmologist, Dr Sumaya Carrim, during Eyecare Awareness Week which was marked from 7 to 11 October.

“When you are old, it’s the little pleasures that you live for, so it’s wonderful to be able to smock again. Thank you so much to everyone who was involved in giving me my eyesight back,” says a delighted Mrs Van Zyl.

Seventeen of the people selected for the pro-bono surgery were operated on at Netcare Bougainville Hospital in Pretoria while the remaining two had their procedures done at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand. “This operation can help patients like Mrs Van Zyl regain their independence. Cataract surgery is truly life changing, so it is humbling to be part of this initiative,” says Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment.

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), more than 800 million people live with vision problems. However, 80% of these conditions could be prevented, treated or cured. Cataracts are a major cause of blindness and particularly affect the elderly.

Dr Nomkanka Setshego, general manager at Netcare Bougainville Hospital, says, “Statistics show that around 150 000 South Africans are blind because of cataracts. We want to contribute to the reduction of this statistic. It is an excellent way for our hospital to give back to the community it serves.”

Cataracts can occur in all age groups but are most common in older patients. Most people believe that a cataract is a ‘film’ over the eye, but this is incorrect. It is actually a clouding of the lens in the eye. The lens is made up of protein and water, and it can become clouded to the extent that it prevents light and images from passing through the lens to the retina. Eye injury, certain diseases, or even some medications may cause the clouding. In more than 90% of cataract cases, however, the clouding is caused by the natural ageing process.

The best way to treat a cataract is to remove the old, clouded lens and replace it with a new one. This is a highly specialised procedure performed on an outpatient or day-patient basis. A tiny incision is made in the eye and through this incision, the surgeon inserts an ultrasonic probe, which is about the same size as a pen tip. This probe breaks the cloudy lens into pieces and then vacuums these tiny pieces out of the eye. This process is known as phacoemulsification or phaco. The next step of the procedure is to implant an artificial lens that will perform the same function as the old original lens, allowing the patient to see again. As the patient’s eyes are numbed with anaesthesia, there should be no pain associated with the procedure.
Cataract surgery is very popular and nearly always successful today. When a cataract has been removed and a new lens implanted successfully, the patient’s vision is clearer, brighter and sharper than it would have been for a long time.


Issued by : Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Sarah Beswick or Graeme Swinney
Telephone : (011) 469 3016
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