Persistence wins after lengthy battle with trachoma

A young man wearing a blue jacket looks into the camera. There are people, trees and blue sky int the background.
Written by Caroline Wagner, published on June 16, 2023 Sign up for eNews

At 32, Stephen is the proud father to four children in Narok County, Kenya. But providing for his family has been challenging for the young dad. Since high school, he’s been struggling with painful, tearing and itchy eyes.

Stephen started out raising livestock but found it difficult to make ends meet. He then tried more lucrative work as a motorcycle taxi driver and courier, but his poor eyesight combined with the dusty country roads made the job too dangerous for him.

Eventually, Stephen visited a private hospital where he was diagnosed with trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes the eyelid to turn inward. As a result of the disease, the eyelashes rub against the eye, causing intense pain, scarring of the cornea and, if left untreated, blindness.

Stephen received a pair of eyeglasses at the hospital and was sent on his way, but he found that the glasses only made things worse. By this point, his right eyelid was so swollen that it was starting to obscure his vision and caused his eye to tear up constantly.

Stephen went to another hospital, where he learned that he needed surgery to treat the trachoma infection in his right eye. With help from his family, Stephen raised the money he needed and got the procedure done. But there was no improvement to his eyesight, and before long, the trachoma infection had returned.

Many villagers are happy about this project because it has literally opened their eyes.”

With remarkable doggedness, Stephen went to a third hospital. Again, he underwent surgery. And again, his condition didn’t improve.

After that, Stephen nearly gave up. But then something happened to reignite hope.

In October, Stephen heard that there would be free surgery for trachoma patients at the Ntulele Health Centre on World Sight Day, which falls on the 22nd of the month. He visited the centre ahead of time to learn more, and a surgeon examined him and recommended another operation. Stephen recounted his previous experiences, but the surgeon reassured him that they could improve his condition.

Stephen returned to the health centre on October 22, and along with many others, underwent his third procedure. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, Stephen got the surgery done free of charge. After the bandages came off, he was filled with joy and relief. His vision was unobscured once again. His right eyelid had been surgically rotated back into place, and his cornea had been spared of any scarring.

A man sits on a gurney in a clinic. He has a bandage over his right eye.
Stephen recovers from his third surgery for trachoma, supported by Operation Eyesight and its donors, at the Ntulele Health Centre in Kenya.

“Now I can get back to my motorcycle business,” he says, “just like the other young men from my village.”

Stephen adds that he is grateful for the work Operation Eyesight is doing in his village through the eye health outreach programs.

“Many villagers are happy about this project because it has literally opened their eyes,” he says. “A lot of people had eye problems, but now they have been treated.”

As well as resuming his work to support his family, Stephen is also acting as an eye health ambassador in his village. When community health workers who work in the village encounter a patient who is nervous about getting surgery for their trachoma, they call on Stephen to share his experience.

With files from Eunice Mwihaki Murigi.