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Three-year-old Atika Jehan is from Siliguri (India) and was born with congenital cataracts in both eyes. She had only some peripheral vision in her eyes, but her parents only noticed the problem recently. Due to her poor eyesight, Atika’s movements were restricted and she became painfully shy. “When we saw a cloudy white patch in her eye ball, and realised she was not seeing things we were giving her, we became extremely worried for her future. Like any other parents, we also wanted our child to go out in the sun and play with other kids. But we could not let her go out alone. This was very much disturbing for us” Atika’s mother told us anxiously.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown restrictions, it difficult to consult any doctor. Availability of doctors in most of the hospitals was limited. They managed to take her to a nearby charitable eye hospital where the doctor diagnosed her with congenital cataracts that required immediate surgery.
Congenital cataract is a rare eye disease, around 2 to 3 in every 10,000 babies are born. Healthy eyes are critical for healthy development of any child. Congenital cataracts, if not treated timely, can cause irreversible blindness in the eye. Blind children have a lifetime of blindness ahead which affects their opportunities for education, employment and earning potential. Hence, treatment of congenital cataract is a priority. Children’s eyes are not like adult eyes because they respond differently to treatment which requires specific expertise, equipment and training. Not all eye hospitals have facilities and expertise to treat this condition.
Unfortunately, there was no paediatric ophthalmologist at the eye hospital. Atika’s parents had to start looking for other options. At the Himalayan Eye Institute, Atika underwent a comprehensive eye and pre-anaesthesia check-up by a team of doctors who advised on immediate surgery. The cost of a paediatric cataract surgery is usually higher than an adult cataract surgery, as it requires general anaesthesia and better quality intra-ocular lens.
Atika's parents are poor. The cost of surgery was beyond their reach. Her father works in a tyre shop. They started approaching their friends and relatives for support, but none could extend a helping hand during this economically tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic.
Inner Wheel Club of Siliguri Uttorayon came to know about Atika's appeal. The club was already supporting eye surgeries of needy patients in this hospital. Mrs. Pramila Bansal, a kind hearted woman, Charter President of the Club, came forward to personally sponsor the cost of surgery.
Atika's left eye was operated first at The Himalayan Eye Institute on 26th June 2021. It was a 45-minute long surgery performed by paediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Supratik Banerjee. Her right eye surgery was on 24th July.
Atika is now able to see with her eyes. At follow-up exam, Atika could identify objects and walk independently—all indications of a good surgical outcome. When asked by the doctor, she happily grabbed a pen to draw a picture on a piece of paper! It is expected that she will be able to go to school and lead a normal life. However, Atika will continue to have regular check-ups so that her vision can be monitored because as a child's vision develops with age, the prescription glasses needs to be adjusted.
Atika is now excited to be able to see the world around her. She can now play with other kids and run around outside. Her parents are extremely delighted to see this transformation after the successful surgeries. “We are so relieved. She can see now! She plays with other children in the neighbourhood, running, smiling and giggling – her shyness has completely disappeared”, exclaims her Mother. Atika’s parents thanked the Inner Wheel Club of Siliguri Uttorayon for their generous support. “Your donation is extra special to us as we were in a time of financial instability. Your extraordinary help has given us hope and brought smile on our daughter’s face” said her father with gratitude.