Nguyen Thi Gai was born in 1991 with eyes she couldn’t use and no one could see. Tucked inside their tiny sockets and buried beneath a fold of skin, Gai’s eyes lay like buried treasure, utterly invisible to the world at large.
Gai might have been abandoned by her parents if they had listened to others. But Gai was fortunate. Her parents loved her, nurtured her and believed in her worth. In 2001, they enrolled her in a newly opened school for the blind in far-off Hai Duong province.
Nguyen Thi Gai
Gai learned to read Braille, use a computer and master the same subjects sighted students take for granted. But Gai’s parents never gave up their search for a doctor who could help their daughter see.
In November 2005, their perseverance paid off. Dr. Mark Cepela, an ophthalmologist from the Cincinnati Eye Institute at the
Cincinnati, uncovered Gai’s right eye and created an eyelid for it during an ORBIS oculoplastic training session at the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology in
Hanoi. At age 14, Gai could see for the first time.
“You are so beautiful,” Gai exclaimed, upon seeing her mother at her bedside following her surgery. “You are very good-looking,” she told her Vietnamese doctor, Dr. Quoc Anh.
A life enhanced
ORBIS caught up with Gai one year after her surgery to see how her life had changed.
At age 15, Gai still lives at The Blind Association of Hai Duong Province. But since her operation, she has attended a local school for sighted children during the day and returns to the blind school in the evenings. She has had three additional surgeries to build on the work of Dr. Cepela.
Gai says she was very scared to go to the regular school at first. When she started, the other children were mean to her, just as she’d feared. But it’s easier now, she says, as the other students have gotten to know her and understand her condition. She prefers the blind school, though, because it’s more suited to her physically and people are more understanding.
“It is nice to know that I can be a part of both worlds,” she says.
Measurable improvements in Gai's life
There are few schools for the blind in
Vietnam. Gai feels lucky to live at The Blind Association. Because the school lacks the space for a playground or recreation center, having only a dormitory and classroom, Gai, like the other students, spends most of her time in the classroom or the computer lab, which she is proud to show off. She even studies English and proudly types “Thank you ORBIS” on her computer.
When asked how her life has changed since her surgery, Gai explains that the increased mobility she has achieved is most remarkable. “Before my surgery, I had difficulty getting around. It is easier for me now. I don’t need as much help going out.“
Like most teenage girls, Gai’s favorite activity is talking to her friends. She would like to become a journalist, teacher or a doctor. In fact, Gai is already a writer. She has sold poetry and essays to the local newspaper and radio station. Her prose used to deal with her life without sight, but now it focuses on her new opportunities.
Whereas Gai previously used voice-recognition software to edit her work, she can now read the computer screen on her own, with the aid of special software enlarging the print. She can also read books and newspapers if she holds them up close. Although her vision isn’t perfect, she can recognize faces and get around largely unassisted.
“Thank you and the doctors,” Gai says. “I want other blind people to be able to see and have better lives, too. After my operation, my life is happier and lighter. I have more fun with both blind and normal sighted people.”
She wishes ORBIS continued success and happiness.
You can help
Your financial support can help ORBIS train other ophthalmologists to perform oculoplastic surgery, enabling even move patients like Gai to experience sight for the first time. Since ORBIS provided training to Dr. Quoc Anh in oculoplasty, he has performed these types of procedures on other challenging patients like Gai and has trained several other specialists in oculoplastic surgery. Please give generously so that others may see.