Vova, one of the children visiting in 2005, was partially blinded at an early age through an accident at school. Through the generosity of local consultants he received much needed treatment and was fitted with cosmetic lenses.
Link member Lesley recounts how she first became aware of Vova's condition:
When the pictures of the children visiting last summer arrived, I studied them thoroughly, trying to learn as many faces as possible before meeting them at Gatwick. As I looked at Vova’s picture, I saw that his left eye looked odd – opaque, and a different colour from the right. I thought that he was probably blind in that eye, and I made enquiries. The news came back that Vova was indeed blind in one eye.
I approached a consultant at Ashtead Hospital and asked him to look at Vova’s photo. He was very interested – it turned out that his Grandmother was Russian, and he had learned to speak Russian as a child. He said that he thought that Vova was completely blind in that eye, and that it was very unlikely that any sight could be restored. However, he felt that Vova’s appearance could be made more normal if a cosmetic shell, or contact lens were fitted to cover the eyeball and said that he was happy to see Vova himself if the Optician that the children see felt that would be helpful. Vova and his mother were delighted at the news, and agreed immediately, sending a letter of consent to England with Vova.
Vova visited Rayners Opticians with the rest of the boys, and ws referred to a consultant. The consultant advised us that Vova’s eye had not yet shrunk enough to take a full cosmetic shell, and a soft bandage contact lens would be most suitable. We were disappointed with this news, as a shell lasts for ten years, where a contact lens lasts for 12 – 18 months. We did not want to make Vova look normal for a few years, and then leave him back where he started. By this time, we knew that his injury had been caused by being pushed and falling onto a door handle at school aged six. He was very conscious of his eye looking different and had undergone two operations in Belarus without saving any sight, although he had been able to see light up until three years ago.
The consultant at Ashtead Hospital examined his eye thoroughly. It was so severely damaged that there no chance of restoring sight. The surface of his eye was covered with deposits of calcium, leaving a rough surface. This meant that every time he blinked, the inside of his eyelid was being scratched, and it was very sore. It became apparent that a contact lens was not just a cosmetic desirability, but medically necessary.
Vova was referred onwards to Charing Cross Hospital so that his eye could be fitted for a lens. We took a picnic up to the gardens of the hospital and watched the London buses go by! The consultant was overwhelmingly generous with his time and resources. He examined the eye, and said that he felt that it would probably continue to shrink over time, and would be suitable for a shell in about ten years. Until then he would need contact lenses. He took photos of the good eye, taught Vova how to put in, remove and care for a lens, and arranged for him to have glasses to protect the good eye, keep dust out of the eye with the lens, and distract attention from the difference in the eyes. He introduced him to a lady who had suffered a similar injury to Vova, and had been wearing lenses for a number of years. We were able to talk to her and ask her questions, and see her eye with and without the lens, and her spare lens floating in a bottle! He undertook to provide two hand painted bandage lenses which would last Vova for up to three years.
Vova took a machine-produced blue contact lens away from the hospital with him, and a mirror. He practised putting it in and taking it out, and then after three days, decided to wear it all the time. It was a vivid blue, not a perfect match to his normal eye, but he was delighted. The glasses arrived, and did indeed draw attention away from the eye itself. We also bought him a couple of pairs of safety goggles for when he is chopping wood – his one good eye is very precious!
The hand-painted lenses arrived after Vova had returned to Belarus. I took them to Gatwick to hand to a group leader travelling back to Minsk. I also gave her a photo of Inna, the teenager who helped last year – she and her mother met the flight and collected the lenses. They then posted them on to Vova, telephoning them to check that they had arrived safely. Vova’s sister has since emailed, and his mother has written to let us know that they have received the lenses. I have asked if it might be possible to have a photo of Vova wearing his new lens.
Lesley and her family visited Vova in Belarus in 2008, and he was fine. He and his mother were both very pleased with his “shell”, and he seemed to have plenty of confidence.