by JACKIE CLAUSEN
When Sinoxolo Hale was diagnosed with kerataconus in 2015, she was only 15 years old, completing Grade 11 at Ntsika Secondary school in Extension Seven.
Kerataconus is a serious eye problem affecting the cornea, which thins and forms a cone shape, damaging the vision.
“I woke up and went to school on that day, but I could feel something in my eye and asked if I could go back home”, she said.
Hale then caught a taxi to her grandmother’s work at Kingswood College to seek help. When she arrived in tears, her grandmother took her straight to manager Sue Dowdle, who immediately took her through to her friend and local Makhanda optometrist Trevor Davies.
Davies realized that Hale’s cornea had prolapsed and she needed immediate medical attention.
After rushing to Gqeberha to visit ophthalmologist Andrew Boliter, Hale received confirmation that her cornea had thinned to such an extent that it had become displaced.
While Boliter offered to perform a cornea transplant, the race was on to find Hale a new cornea.
This seemed an impossible task given the lack of corneas available for public health patients in South Africa. But Davies contacted a US-based friend who worked at the cornea bank in Denver, Colorado and told him Sinoxolo’s story. The friend, Robert Austin then convinced the bank to find a matching cornea and donate it to Sinoxolo.
Back at the Eye Centre in East London, Boliter performed the surgery and over the next eight years continued to do follow-up surgeries and check-ups on Hale’s eye to prevent rejection complications.
Meanwhile, Hale’s “good eye” was deteriorating. But optometrists and Makhanda pharmacist Shali Chen at Settlers Hospital continued to monitor and treat Hale, who completed matric and enrolled for a teaching degree at Rhodes University.
With her team of specialists rallying behind her over the years, Hale finally decided last week to get fitted with a scleral lens to help support the transplanted cornea. This is a hard contact lens that covers the whole front of her eye.
Gqeberha-based optometrist Arnold van der Watt offered his expertise and the Eiohn Hayes Foundation for affordable eye care said they would fund the R8000 procedure.
“I stood on the shoulders of people who want to see me succeed. They gave me hope and a promising future” Hale told Grocott’s Mail.
Hale has not let her eye health stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher. Next month, she will graduate as a teacher from Rhodes University.
“I would love to be a teacher at Kingswood College one day. I am grateful for everyone who came to my aid, from the doctors, Sue, the ladies at the practices in East London and Makhanda, the Settlers’ Hospital team, Dr Davies, friends, family and my grandmother for their support love and kindness”, Hale added.
* Jackie Clausen is a journalist and marketing consultant for Dr Trevor Davies