Joanna’s Miracle sight-saving cataract surgery

Stories | July 31, 2022 | Author: Mariska Meldrum, CBM Campaign Manager

When people ask me how their $33 donation to CBM makes a difference in restoring someone’s sight, I always say the same thing. “Let me tell you about Joanna…”

I first met Joanna in 2017, a month after I had started my role as Campaigns Manager for CBM’s annual Miracles Day, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

At the time, I was visiting the Philippines with Andy, a radio producer from 89.9 TheLight in Melbourne, to interview people about receiving life-changing cataract surgery. It was so impactful to hear of the challenges they had experienced – and how the restoration of their sight would change their lives for good.

Speaking to a nurse, I heard gut-wrenching sobs from across the room. The sobs were coming from Frenil, mum to 13-year-old Joanna, who was about to undergo cataract surgery.

Frenil was explaining to Andy that Joanna had come top of her class in grade six, but when the local high school found out she had lost her sight, they turned her away. It was heart-wrenching to hear the sadness in her voice as she outlined the distress this had caused Joanna and her family.

Joanna then burst into tears as she told us that she had taught herself to speak fluent English from a dictionary, hoping she could become a successful businessperson. Now, her dream seemed out of reach.

An undiagnosed health condition led Joanna to suddenly develop cataracts in both eyes, leaving her blind.

“When I wake up one day, I can’t see everything… I can’t see my classmates, my dictionary… nothing,” she sobbed.  

Joanna told me that before she lost her sight, she had hobbies shared by many teenage girls, like dancing.  But now, she couldn’t dance anymore.

As Joanna was taken into surgery, Frenil wiped her tears, turned to me, and said, “It’s my deepest desire for Joanna to be able to finish her studies…”

As a mum of three young children myself, I knew how worried Frenil was for her daughter’s future and how she wanted to ensure she had the same opportunities as any other girl Joanna’s age. Frenil knew cataract surgery would be life-changing for her daughter. She had already had surgery on one eye a few weeks earlier. Frenil hoped that once the other eye was done, the high school would accept Joanna.

The day after Joanna’s surgery, I watched as CBM’s partner staff took the patch off Joanna’s eye and assessed her sight. Frenil and I hugged when we found out the surgery was a success. Unfortunately, Joanna was still in post-surgery pain, and I left wondering if the surgery would change her life the way her mum hoped it would.

Joanna
Joanna 13yrs. Location: Bacolod, Philippines 2017. Photo by Erin Johnson, Room3 for CBM Australia

Five months later, I returned to the Philippines with a team of radio station breakfast show hosts. The radio hosts were there to witness life-transforming cataract surgeries and broadcast Miracles Day live from the field.

I was delighted when Joanna and her mum visited our hotel to meet the radio teams. They joyfully shared that Joanna’s cataract surgery had been a success, and she was now happily in high school.

Before she left, Joanna tapped me on the shoulder and told me she wanted to show me something. Before I knew it, she was pulling impressive dance moves to a Bruno Mars song right there in the hotel lobby. Joanna told me her dreams had come true – she had started high school and could dance again.

In the years since I found myself thinking about Joanna. Wondering how the cataract surgery had changed her life and hoping she was still studying hard to achieve her goal of becoming a businessperson.

Staff from CBM’s partner agency in the Philippines visited Joanna at home in 2021. To their delight, they discovered that Joanna was not only topping her class at school, but she had also helped her mum set up a shop. This meant her entire family would have a steady income.

Joanna is working at her part-time job in the Phillipines.

I was thrilled to hear this update – and that Joanna had achieved her dream of becoming a businessperson. I thought that would be the last I heard of her, but today, I got an unexpected email. It was from a colleague in the Philippines who had met Joanna with me in 2017. She shared the news that Joanna had just graduated from high school.

I thought back to that young girl and her mum, sobbing in the hospital together as they shared their pain and fears for the future. And I smiled as I pictured Frenil proudly watching Joanna graduating from high school.

If you are wondering whether giving a $33 donation on Miracles Day makes a difference, please think of Joanna. This incredible young woman, who, instead of a life spent blind and reliant on her mum, has just graduated from high school, helped start a family business and is living life to the full.

Miracles Day is on Thursday, August 18.

You can give someone like Joanna the gift of sight by donating a $33 Miracle today. Visit www.cbm.org.au/miraclesday or call 131 226 to donate. 

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