“I couldn’t see anything. They had to take my hand for me to go the bathroom, to use the shower. I couldn’t do anything by myself.” Leopold waved his hands as he spoke, adding, “I always had to depend on somebody else.”
Two years ago, cataracts began to cloud Leopold’s vision. Soon, they took over completely. “From the start, I thought about how to get rid of the problem,” he recalls. “But the money – it was so expensive.” After his initial diagnosis, the 45-year-old father of six went to his priest, asking for help. The leader of the parish gave Leopold money to buy medicine, but his vision continued to deteriorate. He asked his relatives for help, but they didn’t have the means. He asked friends, other taxi drivers and old schoolmates. They all began to disappear from his life.
“Now, I don’t have anyone,” he confesses, “just my family.” Before the cataracts came, Leopold used to spend long evenings with friends, sitting by the beach and talking well into the night. “But they don’t invite me out anymore, and no one comes around,” he says. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Well, that’s life.”
Leopold seemed to be stuck in a hopeless situation – always dependent on others, yet having fewer and fewer people to depend upon. He sat alone at home for two long years. His wife and sister busied themselves with caring for his six children as he remained immobile – an island trapped in the midst of their constant movements.
But, after some time, Leopold heard of an opportunity to have free cataract surgery onboard the Africa Mercy. In late January he found himself being led down the hospital halls on his way to the operating theater.
One day later, Leopold could read a chart ten feet away, pointing out which direction each “E” was facing. In a week or two, his vision should be completely back to normal. “We’re using a reasonably new therapy with him,” says volunteer ophthalmologist Woody Hopper (USA). “In the western world this medication has become quite common, and we’re seeing if it can help streamline the healing process here, too.” The plan is that Leopold will see better and faster, and he won’t need as many follow-up appointments. So far, it’s working beautifully.
After two years in cloudy shadows, Leopold welcomes a quick recovery – he’s s ready to get on with life. “If I can get my specialized driving license and be a chauffeur, that’d be good,” he says. “But I’ll do any kind of job I can – I want to work.”
He plans to contact his old friends too – the ones who disappeared. “I’ll welcome them back into my home,” he says. “Of course! I’ll be so glad to finally see them.”
Story by Anna Psiaki