Eight Feature Items - World Sight Day - 14 October

< BACK TO HEALTH starstarstarstarstar   Community - Health Press Release
13th October 2010, 02:25pm - Views: 586





Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 1 image

World Sight Day – Thursday14 October



The Department of Health and Ageing has compiled a series of case studies to

highlight preventable blindness among Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander people.  


Preventable or avoidable blindness is a significant health concern.  According to the

2004-05 National Health Survey, more than half (52%) of Australians suffer from

eye health problems.


The following eight items will help your readers better understand the issues that

preventable blindness raise, and we encourage you to place them in your

newspapers, newsletters and on your websites.


The case studies focus on the four key eye diseases: cataracts; macular

degeneration; glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.  These articles highlight:



the importance of eye health and the need for regular eye examinations for

early detection


the serious but often preventable nature of eye disease


the importance of good management of eye health to prevent disease and

improve quality of life


the risk factors of eye disease


the types of eye health care services available to detect, prevent and treat

vision loss.


With World Sight Day on Thursday 14 October, these articles are timely, but their

relevance to community health makes them useful at almost any times.


High-quality photos are available on request from the department (contact details

below) to illustrate the items, if required.  




Department of Health and Ageing contact:

Helene Towers

Tel: 02 6289 4447

e-mail: helene.towers@health.gov.au




Case Study | Macular Degeneration | Albert Edwards | Melbourne


A chance to see the places and games he loves


Albert Edwards has three great loves in his life - family, travel and sport. 


His travels have taken him and his wife, Kerry, to exotic beaches throughout the world –

from the remote coast of northern Australia through to Hawaii.   


In sport, Albert has played Aussie Rules and basketball at the elite level, and has been a self-

confessed one-eyed Richmond supporter for as long as he can remember.


But nowadays 55-year-old Albert is seeing a lot less of the world and sport than he would

like. Albert is living with macular degeneration. 


Macular degeneration is a disease that slowly destroys the retina and macula. Albert is

getting treatment for the disease and has slowed the progress of the sight loss. But the

grandfather of two says if he had had his eyes tested earlier, he might have been able to save

more of his sight.


Macular degeneration progressively eats away at central vision – the ability to see fine detail

such as faces, print, or in Albert’s case, the ability to see a ball or drive at night. 


Unlike refractive error, which is when the eyes cannot focus and glasses are needed to correct

vision, macular degeneration is like mud splatters in the centre of sight.  Dark shadows block

out detail. 


“My message for people is simple. Get your eyes tested. If you’ve got macular degeneration

you just might be able to delay it or stop it getting any worse,” Albert said. 


Albert played top-level basketball until he reached his mid 40s, but his eyesight started to

deteriorate to the point that he couldn’t find the ball in his vision. 


“I was playing in a basketball tournament and I just noticed on this particular day I couldn’t

focus on the ball – I could still see it but it wasn’t as clean as it had been,” Albert said. 


“I kept playing basketball, although I didn’t quite play up to the standards that I knew I

could. I loved the sport but I knew there was something wrong with my eyesight.


“It was a little bit daunting but I battled on. But eventually I had to give basketball away. 

There are still a few blokes I used to play basketball with at Dandenong stadium still playing

and I would love to, but I know with the way my eyes are I just wouldn’t be able to do it.


“Even driving at night time became difficult.  I can remember driving to our holiday home in

Victoria one particular night. I was heading off down a country road and my wife said to me

you can’t see where you’re going.  I said not really, I’m following the white line. She told me

to stop the car. I got out of the car and into the passenger seat. 


“That was it for night driving in the country. Now when we go on a drive we leave in the

morning or early afternoon.”


Albert says it wasn’t until about four years ago, when he went to Monash University to have

his eyes tested, that he was diagnosed with macular degeneration and referred to an eye

specialist.


Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 2 image

Albert was asked to join a macular degeneration research project at the Centre for Eye

Research Australia (CERA).  While lost sight cannot be restored in some cases, treatments

such as laser may slow or stop macular degeneration’s progress.  The earlier it is detected the

more can be done to save sight.


“The research program has been fantastic. I remember when I first went there I was very

apprehensive. They’ve explained things in triplicate to me.

 

“I had laser treatment on my right eye – which is most affected – but somehow my left eye

improved.  My left eye is keeping me on the road and moving about – letting me function

normally.”


One of the critical risk factors for macular degeneration is a family history. People with a

family history of macular degeneration have a 50 per cent chance of also contracting the

disease.  This genetic link was part of the reason Albert joined the CERA research project.


“I have grandchildren, and because macular degeneration is a degenerative thing and it gets

handed down, I want to do what I can to help researchers to hopefully find a cure.


“I’ve got a positive result from being in the research project. It has been fantastic for me and

it will be fantastic for my son; my grandchildren and their children and people in general.” 


But while science is working towards a cure, Albert says regular eye tests, particularly for

people 40 years and older, is the best defence.


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .


Facts about Macular Degeneration


Macular degeneration affects people’s central vision – the part of the eye where we process

visual detail such as faces or text. It can happen at any time in someone’s life but the

condition is more prevalent as people get older.  This is referred to as age-related macular

degeneration (AMD).  


In the early stages of AMD symptoms may not be obvious. By the time symptoms appear

damage has already been done.  While vision lost to AMD cannot be restored, early detection


even before vision loss is obvious – can slow or stop sight loss.


Some people are at more risk of getting AMD. This includes:


people with a family history of the disease;


people who smoke; and


people with low levels of carotenoids and vitamins C and E in their blood.


Regular eye checks are important to early detection and sight saving treatment. 




Case Study | Fiona Steele, Community Nurse | Mt Allen


Trachoma - the long road to healing


The eyes of young people in the remote central desert community of Yuelamu are getting

better.  Three years ago, 76 per cent of school age kids (5-9 years) tested had active

trachoma.  Today, the infection rate is down to 24 per cent.


This dramatic turnaround is the result of a community committed to wiping out a disease that

starts in the young, but if left untreated, often leads to permanent blindness as people get

older.


Yuelamu Community’s Remote Area Nurse, Fiona Steele, says the Yuelamu community has

led the fight against trachoma, and if more communities could achieve the same dramatic

reduction, the disease’s foothold in central Australia could be broken. 


Trachoma is an infection that can cause scarring on the inside of the eyelid. Over time, this

can cause the eyelashes to turn inward, rubbing against the unprotected eyeball and

ultimately causing blindness in older people. In places like Yuelamu, where it is dry and

dusty, the disease is more common.  Australia is the only developed country in the world that

still has high levels of trachoma. 

 

“As part of the Healthy School Age Children program, we screen for trachoma,” Fiona says.

“Based on the infection rates we have been doing two community-wide treatments each year

and each time we do a treatment the community flocks to the health centre. They don’t want

this disease destroying the sight of any more people.


“Eyes play an important part in the teaching and learning of Aboriginal culture. People here

communicate a lot using their hands – gestures can mean so much more than words.  Losing

sight denies them the opportunity to hunt, to contribute to the learning of the young, to record

the beauty of this culture through art.


“Although trachoma starts in the young it is the older people – those who we need to teach

the young the traditional ways – who lose their sight.”  


Fiona, who, with husband Barry, has been in Yuelamu for more than five years, says the

success of Yuelamu in combating trachoma is based on building a strong community

awareness of the issue and of what people can do to reduce the spread of the disease.


The health clinic is just a small part of Fiona’s health practice.  Most of her work is done in

the streets, in the general store, or in people’s homes.   “I don’t just wait for people to come

and see me at the clinic. Each day, as I go about my life in our community, I talk with people

about things that are happening and their health and the health of their families.”


Fiona hopes the downward trend in infections with trachoma at Yuelamu will allow her to

one day focus on targeting infected households rather than the current community-wide

treatments. But this will depend on other communities also making inroads into infection

rates.  


“People here move around a lot and trachoma is easily passed from person to person.  We

need every community to do its bit in getting the disease under control.  Once it is back in

our community it will spread through usual contact.

Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 3 image


“The simple message is people can reduce the chances of getting or passing on trachoma if

they follow some simple rules about keeping eyes clean, washing hands and faces as often as

possible and also getting their eyes tested regularly to see if they need treatment.


“We can’t get rid of the dust and flies but we can get rid of trachoma if the community works

together.”


The Australian Government is investing millions of dollars to address both the symptoms of

vision problems, and also the underlying social and environmental factors that contribute to

poor eye health in Indigenous communities.


It is providing more than $58 million towards the early detection and treatment of eye and ear

health conditions, which includes funding for intensive eye surgery weeks in Alice Springs

and an increase in funding for the Visiting Optometrists Scheme.  It also includes $16 million

to boost services combating endemic trachoma in Indigenous communities.


The investment by the Australian Government is critical to supporting people like Fiona

Steele, who are working at the coalface of Indigenous eye health. 


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .




Facts about Trachoma


Trachoma is an eye disease that mainly infects the young but can lead to permanent blindness

in older people.


Trachoma is easily treated with the antibiotic azithromycin.


There are other ways to stop trachoma besides medicine, such as:


washing face and hands at least morning and night;


keeping the number of flies down by proper and frequent rubbish disposal;


avoiding exposure to dust as much as possible; and


having an annual eye check, such as the Healthy School Aged Kids (HSAK) screening. 






Eye Health Case Study | Gary Fehlberg | Diabetic Retinopathy/Oedema | Melb


Eyes on the long road


Veteran truck driver Gary Fehlberg reckons anyone driving for a living who is over 40 years

of age should have regular eye checks – before little problems turn into big problems.


After more than 25 years behind the wheel and more than two million kilometres on long

hauls across Australia, 55-year-old Gary knows how important good sight is to the safety of

drivers and how sight can change without warning. 


Five years ago Gary, who has Type 1 diabetes, noticed a slight blurring in the central part of

vision in his right eye. Over months it got progressively worse. Gary went to see his

optometrist only to find out that he had diabetic retinopathy, one of the world’s leading

causes of vision loss in people aged 20 to 65 years. It causes damage to the small blood

vessels in the retina on the back of the eye.


“For a long time you don’t take any notice of it but then it starts annoying you and you can’t

read street directories and things like that,” Gary said. “I thought I had better do something

about it.


“I’d been driving interstate for over 20 years and I had tremendous eyesight. I never needed

glasses or anything. So when my sight started to get worse I just assumed it was a symptom

of age. But in my case it was a bit more than that.” 


Current treatments for diabetic retinopathy can prevent further vision loss but cannot restore

lost sight.  

 

Gary was also diagnosed with macular oedema, a swelling of the macula caused by the

leakage of fluid from the damaged blood vessels. The macula is the critical area of the retina

that converts light into signals for the brain. Macular oedema can also cause permanent

damage to central vision.  


Gary started laser treatment, which is commonly used to prevent further sight loss. But with

some of the damaged blood vessels very close to the centre of his macula, the risk of further

damage to his vision by the laser was too great. 


Gary’s doctor referred him to the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in the hope that Gary

might be considered for a groundbreaking study into a new treatment that didn’t use laser and

was being conducted by the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA).


Gary was selected to join the CERA study and started getting injections of a new drug into

the white of the eye, rather than laser directly onto the damaged blood vessels. After three

years in the study he is positive about his future prospects. 


“My eyesight doesn’t bother me greatly as it is now but I thought I’d better go and get

something done about it before it did deteriorate and get beyond repair. The trial looks

promising.” 


Gary now pays particular attention to his eyes and his vision. “I’m very mindful now. I’m

always tallying up how my sight’s going – whether it’s deteriorating or not; what I can see

and what I can’t see with each eye; how my reading’s going. 


“I think anyone who drives for a living should have their eyes looked at regularly. It’s like a

maintenance program to help you stay on the road.  You wouldn’t let a problem with your

truck get out of control – that just wastes time and money.  


Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 4 image

“Our eyes are our living and our safety.  Getting your eyes tested to find out if you have a

problem before you have sight loss is just smart. It doesn’t cost anything and its going to save

you in the long run.”


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .



Facts about Diabetic Retinopathy

Anyone with diabetes is at risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. The risk increases if:


you’ve had diabetes for a long time;


your diabetes is poorly controlled;


you have kidney damage; or


you have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.


Early detection and starting treatment before your eyesight becomes too bad can prevent

significant damage to the eyes and vision. Laser treatment can prevent further sight loss but

cannot restore lost vision.


Talk to your doctor or optician about making regular eye checks part of your diabetes

management plan.






Case Study | Lilly Stafford, Artist | Diabetic Retinopathy-cataracts | Central Desert



The saving of gentle eyes 


In the harsh sun-drenched Central Desert of Australia, Aboriginal artist Lilly Stafford sees

life in delicate shades.  The colours of the spinifex, the richness of a tree’s bark and the depth

and change in the dusty earth, these are the colours of her life.


Her inspiration, she says, is all around her. From the veranda of her home in the small

community of Yuelamu at the edge of the Tanami Desert, she points to her colours; to the

experiences and the land of her family. 


Through her eyes Lilly translates the beauty of her land into paint. Her work hangs in

galleries in South Australia and Victoria, and also in private collections throughout the

world. Yet in the past seven years this masterful artist has almost lost her sight twice, once to

diabetic retinopathy and then to cataracts.


Diabetes, or sugar sickness as it is known, is a big concern for the health of Indigenous

people’s eyes.  Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading preventable causes of blindness in

Indigenous Australians.  A recent survey into Indigenous health found that in the past 30

years the rate of diabetes has soared – from less than half a per cent, to more than a third of

the population. Alarmingly, most Indigenous diabetics are not getting their eyes tested to

pick up signs of early retinopathy – early treatment can prevent 98 per cent of blindness. 


Cataracts are also a leading cause of preventable blindness in Indigenous people. They cause

more than a third of blindness in adults, and are responsible for about one third of low vision. 

Cataracts, which can be a normal part of ageing, cause the lens inside the eye to get cloudy

and the eyes can become sensitive to light. Colours appear faded or yellowed.


Lilly’s first scare with sight loss happened in 2003. She struggled to finish a painting as the

symptoms of sight loss caused by diabetic retinopathy started to show.  


Lilly had two treatments of laser surgery to stop progress of the disease. Although some

damage would be permanent, the surgery saved most of her sight.  She also started to look

after her diabetes. 


Unfortunately, diabetes, and sometimes even laser treatment itself, can promote the growth

of cataracts. In Lilly’s case, a cataract in her right eye started to grow and by 2008 it had

almost completely obscured vision. Lilly needed surgery again.  


This time, however, she would not be making the 600 kilometre round trip to Alice Springs

alone.  A new program at the Alice Springs Hospital that started in 1997 was bringing

visiting surgeons and patients together for a week of intensive surgery. Most importantly,

Lilly was able to travel with others heading to the hospital. Once in Alice Springs the local

Fred Hollows Foundation, resident hospital staff and other community organisations worked

together to support Lilly, making her stay and the prospect of surgery less daunting. 


Lilly’s cataract was removed and her sight restored. She returned home able to see clearly.


“It was blind that side,” Lilly said with a hand cupping her right eye. “After the operation it is

all good. I can see far.  I can paint, do everything. I’ve been able to go hunting and get bush

tucker.”


The success of the surgery week, now locally known as the ‘Eye Blitz’, has seen the program

continue, and to date more than 450 people have had vision-saving surgery through the

initiative.


The innovative approach to delivering eye surgery has been made possible through a wide-

ranging health partnership that brings together the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Eye

Foundation, the Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, the Central Australian

Aboriginal Congress and the Australian and Northern Territory Governments.  It is part of

the Central Australian Integrated Eye Health Strategy.


But for Lilly, the quietly spoken great, great grandmother of the Central Desert, the biggest

success of the initiative is the chance it has given her to teach her family the skills and

passion of her art so they can continue in her footsteps. “I am teaching all the grand children

and great grand children everything.  It’s good.” 


Thanks to the work of eye surgeons, governments, health workers and community-based

agencies, Lilly is able to continue to create her artworks and to build the skills of future

generations of Indigenous artists. 


Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 5 image

The Australian Government is investing millions of dollars to address both the symptoms of

vision problems, and also the underlying causes of poor eye health in Indigenous

communities.


It is providing more than $58 million towards the early detection and treatment of eye and ear

health conditions, which includes funding for the intensive eye surgery weeks in Alice

Springs and an increase in funding for the Visiting Optometrists Scheme.  It also includes

$16 million to boost services combating endemic trachoma in Indigenous communities.


The investment by the Australian Government is critical to supporting people like Tim

Henderson, who are working at the coalface of Indigenous eye health. 


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .   





Eye Health Case Study | Glaucoma | Robert Chong | Melbourne



A fighting spirit sees results


When Robert Chong was leaving his native Malaysia to come to Australia, his father wanted

to show him that respect, not aggression, was a better way for Robert to prove himself in his

new country. His father simply asked Robert to land a hard blow to his father’s chest. Robert

tried but found himself flat on his back at his father’s feet.

 

Standing over his prone son, Mr Chong senior offered Robert this advice; “When you get to

Australia you don’t get into any fights – fighting is not for you. It will only demean you.”

 

That was 48 years ago, and Robert remembers the lesson well. But while Robert has not

ignored his father’s advice, he is widely recognised as one of Melbourne’s great fighters

when it comes to building a better Australia for all people.


Nowadays Robert is also fighting a more personal fight, a battle against the threat of

blindness through glaucoma. 


Five years ago during a regular eye check up with his optometrist, Shirley Loh, Robert was

diagnosed with glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve related to the pressure in the eye. If

untreated it could lead to blindness.


Robert says the diagnosis shook him.  “When I heard I had glaucoma the fear that it conjured

up was blindness. I am quite an active person. I thought if I go blind what would I do?”


But Robert is no stranger to taking on hard battles. He was elected to local government in

1997, was twice elected Mayor of the City of Whitehorse, and is still a serving Councillor.

But even before he was elected to Council, he had been instrumental in fighting for

community services in areas such as Home & Community Care, Aged Care and migrant

services.  He has championed migrant groups to get government support for culturally

sensitive facilities and services. His tireless community involvement earned him an Order of

Australia award in 1991. 


Robert’s treatment for glaucoma started with a course of special eye-drops, a common and

usually effective way to reduce pressure in the eyes. But after a year or so the pressure had

not stabilised and Robert was given the option of laser surgery to open small holes near

where fluid is supposed to leave the eye. This makes it easier for the eye to release pressure

naturally.



“When my specialist mentioned laser treatment I thought it might be painful or put me out of

action for weeks. It worried me. But it was nothing really. You get some eye drops to numb

the eye then it is just click, click, click. It was all over in 10 or 15 minutes and there was no

pain involved. I was quite happy because I was quite apprehensive when he mentioned laser

treatment.


“The treatment got my eye pressure down. It could go down further but as a treatment it was

quite successful.”


Optometrist Shirley Loh said because Robert was diagnosed early and started treatment, he

has minimised his sight loss. But he will need to continue using the eye drops to help reduce

the pressure and get regular eye checks to monitor any change to his eyes.


“Treatment for glaucoma cannot restore sight that is lost but it can usually prevent or slow

progress of the disease and further sight loss,” Ms Loh said. 


Robert agrees.  “I was lucky. I got tested and found the problem early.  Everyone should get

their eyes checked to make sure they are in good condition. If you have a local optician he or

she will be able to tell you if you have signs of glaucoma.” 


The ever-optimistic Robert is confident that he will win his fight against glaucoma. 


“I have faced many challenges in my life, but if you believe in something and you put your

efforts toward making a difference, you can overcome the barriers.”


One of Robert’s early successes for his community is the Waverly Chinese Senior Citizens

Club, which he started in 1989.  The club has grown to more than 1,650 active Chinese and

non-Chinese members who get together through the week for Tai Chi classes, music days

and social outings. 


“This club is not just for Chinese people. It is about sharing this wonderful culture with

others so that we can all see that our country is a place of many cultures, of many people who

have come together as Australians.


“We are growing as a nation. Learning to respect and enjoy differences. Back in 1989,

council was working with older people but it was all focused on English speaking residents.

No one spoke Chinese.  Because of this the older Chinese people could not enjoy the services

that were available because they couldn’t understand what was going on. 


Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 6 image

“I thought a new club for older Chinese would help them feel more comfortable and also

open doors for others to see how older Chinese people keep active. Today it is a place of

great harmony.”


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .




Facts about Glaucoma


Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.  It affects people of

all ages, but is more common in people as they get older. 


More than 300,000 Australians have glaucoma. 


Although there is no cure for glaucoma it can usually be controlled and further loss of

sight either prevented or at least slowed down.


Your optometrist can test for glaucoma and provide advice or referrals to help you fight

the disease.






Case Study Diabetic Retinopathy  - Sarah Mawer 



Through a mother’s eyes


For Sarah Mawer, the joy and anticipation of being pregnant for the first time was short-

lived. 

 

By the end of her first trimester, 28-year-old Sarah was living with the real fear that she

might never see her unborn child.  Sarah, an insulin dependant diabetic, had suddenly started

going blind.

 

Sarah’s eyes had succumbed to complications associated with her diabetes. Overnight her

eyesight deteriorated rapidly. She woke with blurry vision, unable to read or drive.  

 

Sarah was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a condition where blood vessels at the back

of the eyes start to swell and eventually leak fluid. The disease was slowly eroding her sight.

And unfortunately for Sarah, by the time the symptoms of vision loss were obvious, the

disease was well advanced.

 

“My greatest fear was not being able to see Arnya when she was born. It was really scary for

me to think I was going to have this beautiful little baby and not be able to see her or watch

her grow up.  It was a cause of anxiety.  I was a mess, an absolute mess,” Sarah said.

 

“I remember my mum saying at around 20 weeks into the pregnancy that I should be glowing

but I just couldn’t.  I was too worried – too scared.”

 

In week 12 of her pregnancy, Sarah started weekly laser treatments at Melbourne’s Royal

Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital – hundreds of individual bursts of laser beam targeting

damaged blood vessels to stop the leakage. Sarah’s eyesight was already permanently

damaged.  Her fight now centred on preventing further loss.

 

By week 28, Sarah’s eyes were getting worse. Her ophthalmologist suggested a more

aggressive treatment – steroid injections directly into the back of her eyes to reduce the

swelling. 


Between the steroid injections and the weekly laser treatments that continued throughout her

pregnancy, Sarah was able to save almost all of her vision. And at 33 weeks Sarah laid eyes

on baby Arnya. 


“She was so little. They wrapped her up and brought her to me.  I felt like all my vision

problems went away – I could see her nose, her hair – it was a huge burden lifted – I was

over the moon,” Sarah said. 


Diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults aged 20-60 years in

Australia, and is a real risk for anyone with diabetes, including gestational diabetes during

pregnancy. 


But according to Dr Alex Harper, Ophthalmologist at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and

Ear Hospital, significant blindness is preventable if people manage their glycaemia, blood

pressure and cholesterol levels and get their eyes checked regularly for signs of retinopathy.  


“If you’ve got diabetes you need to make regular eye checks a part of your diabetes

management plan. If we can pick up signs early we can act to minimise or stop sight loss,”

Dr Harper said.  “We cannot bring back sight that is lost, so the earlier we can detect and

treat the condition the more sight we can save. 


“Diabetes cannot be left unchecked or unmanaged. It is a condition that requires people to

take control of what they eat and their physical wellbeing.”


Sarah says her case highlights the need for people to take control of their diabetes and to get

regular eye checks to pick up signs of retinopathy early.  


Although she started strictly managing blood levels and diet when she discovered she was

pregnant (at around six weeks), she says that she had not been vigilant in the past.


“I stopped properly managing my diabetes when I was a teenager. I suppose it was that

young adult mentality where I had other things to do.  I was young and thought I was

invincible. I thought I could go out every week and party like everybody else.


“This whole experience with my eyes on top of the pregnancy just made life horrible. It was

truly horrible. What was worse is that I know that if I had looked after myself maybe it

wouldn’t have happened.”


Sarah said the experience refocused her resolve to stay on top of her diabetes.  By the time

she fell pregnant with her second child, now-six-month-old Lila, Sarah had her diabetes well

under control.

Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 7 image


“I did my HbA1C – this is a test that measures the amount of glycosylated hemoglobin in

your blood. It helps you look at how well your diabetes is being managed over time. I am

eating better, exercising more and generally taking better care of myself. I had my diabetes

under control when I had Lila.”


Sarah says she will be forever grateful to the people at the Eye and Ear Hospital for saving

her sight and allowing her to watch her children grow up. 


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth 



Facts about Diabetic Retinopathy

Anyone with diabetes is at risk of getting diabetic retinopathy. The risk increases if:


you’ve had diabetes for a long time;


your diabetes is poorly controlled;


you have kidney damage; or


you have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.


Early detection and treatment before eyesight deteriorates can prevent significant damage to

the eyes and vision. Laser treatment can prevent further sight loss but cannot restore lost

vision.


Talk to your doctor or optician about making regular eye checks part of your Diabetes

management plan.







Eye Health Case Study | Terry Raggett | Mt Liebig, Central Desert


The stockman; his eyes and a dream of sharing


When Terry Raggett talks about his years as a stockman pushing cattle across the rugged

country of the Central Desert, a smile spreads across his weathered face.  His love of his

country and of a drover’s life is obvious.


While the 70-year-old retired stockman no longer rides, he keeps horses at his property near

the Central Desert community of Mt Liebig. His dream is to share his lifetime of knowledge

and experiences with his young grandchildren – to teach them the stockman’s ways. 


That dream was all but dashed for Terry by what he calls sugar sickness in his eyes and

cloudy eye. Diabetic retinopathy and cataracts were destroying his vision.  A cataract in his

right eye was so dense that Terry could not see out of the eye. More alarmingly, doctors

could not see through the foggy lens to pinpoint laser surgery to treat Terry’s diabetic

retinopathy.


Without proper care Terry faced serious sight loss through diabetic retinopathy, one of the

world’s leading causes of vision loss in people aged 20 to 65 years. It causes damage to the

small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye.  Once the retina is damaged, lost sight

cannot be restored.

  

Fortunately for Terry, and for hundreds of others in remote communities across the Northern

Territory, help was not too far away.  Alice Springs Hospital’s head of eye surgery, Dr Tim

Henderson, is a regular feature in the skies above the vast territory.  For the past 10 years he

has been flying into remote communities to bring eye health care to where it is needed most.  


Terry met Dr Henderson a couple of years ago when the eye surgeon made one of his regular

fly-in house calls to the Mt Liebig community.  Terry and Tim talked about Terry’s options

and agreed to surgery to remove the cataract in his right eye. Removing the cataract opened

the window to allow Dr Henderson to also start laser treatment to stop sight loss caused by

the diabetic retinopathy.


Thanks to the surgeries, Terry’s eyesight has stabilised. And although he knows he has a

cataract developing in his left eye, he also knows that he has time to get it fixed before the

problem gets out of hand.


“It’s good now,” says Terry touching his eyes. “I’m too old to ride now but I can show my

grandkids – teach them to ride, teach them to hunt.”


Terry is one of hundreds of people who are getting sight-saving treatments thanks to the

combined work of government and non-government agencies.


While Dr Henderson performs many of the delicate laser surgery procedures during his

community visits, more complex operations, such as the removal of cataracts, are often done

through intensive eye surgery weeks or “Eye Blitzes” as there are known locally. This

surgery is done at Alice Springs Hospital.  Up to three times a year, large groups of people

from communities across the territory come to Alice Springs for a week of specialist surgery

and care, particularly for the removal of cataracts and to fix eyes damaged by trachoma.  


Unlike other services where patients go to a major hospital for surgery, the eye surgery week

makes the trip less daunting by arranging family and community support for patients.  


The surgery week is a health partnership that brings together the Fred Hollows Foundation,

the Eye Foundation, the Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, the Central Australian

Aboriginal Congress and the Australian and Northern Territory Governments. It is part of the

Central Australian Integrated Eye Health Strategy.


This wide-reaching health partnership is delivering a first-class eye health service to the

people of central Australia.


The Australian Government is investing millions of dollars to address both the symptoms of

vision problems, and also the underlying social and environmental factors that contribute to

poor eye health in Indigenous communities.


It is providing more than $58 million towards the early detection and treatment of eye and ear

health conditions, which includes funding for the intensive eye surgery weeks in Alice

Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 8 image

Springs and an increase in funding for the Visiting Optometrists Scheme.  It also includes

$16 million to boost services combating endemic trachoma in Indigenous communities.


The investment by the Australian Government is critical to supporting people like Tim

Henderson, who are working at the coalface of Indigenous eye health. 


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .





Eye Health Case Study | Tim Henderson | Eye health in Central Australia


Flying eye - taking to the skies


Tim Henderson has seen more of Australia’s outback than most.  Every Monday he takes to

the skies above Central Australia – flying to some of the most remote communities in the

world.  


But Tim is not a sightseer – he’s a sight saver.  For the past 10 years the Alice Springs eye

surgeon has been working at the coalface of Indigenous eye health, taking his sight saving

screening and laser surgery to communities so remote that they are beyond the reach of

traditional eye health services.  His practice spans more than 1.6 million square kilometres.


The recently released National Indigenous Eye Health Survey underlines the need for Dr

Henderson’s work. The rate of blindness in Indigenous adults is more than six times higher

than non-Indigenous Australians.  The major causes of blindness are cataract, refractive

error, diabetic eye disease, optic atrophy and trachoma.  


Diabetes is a big concern for the health of Indigenous people’s eyes.  Diabetic retinopathy is

one of the leading preventable causes of blindness in Indigenous Australians.  The survey

found that in the past 30 years the rate of diabetes has soared – from less than half a per cent,

to more than a third of the population. 


Cataracts are also a leading cause of preventable blindness in Indigenous people. They cause

more than a third of blindness in adults, and are responsible for about one third of low vision. 


Dr Henderson says most of the sight-destroying conditions can be treated or sight loss

stopped if treatment starts early enough. With early detection and treatment of diabetic eye

disease, 98 per cent of diabetic patients will keep good vision and avoid blindness. But more

than a third of Indigenous adults have never had their eyes examined. Instead they are living

with the time bomb of blindness.  


“What we are doing is very unlike most outreach services anywhere else in the world,” says

Tim. “Usually an outreach service identifies problems and sends the patient back to be dealt

with centrally. 


“Here, because we’ve got lots of small discrete communities logistically a long way away, it

is actually much more cost effective, once we’ve identified several patients in a community,

to go out there and do what we can.


“You have to accept that a lot of community patients don’t want to come into town (Alice

Springs) at all.  It’s too far, too crowded, too foreign. By going to where they live, we are

able to target these people and also provide opportunistic care when we have someone in

front of us with a problem that needs dealing with.”


Tim says his job is made easier by the Australian Government’s Visiting Optometrists

Scheme, which funds regular visits by optometrists to remote communities, and also by the

local community health workers who get people along to see the eye doctor when he flies in.


“What we try and do is have the visiting optometrists go out a couple of weeks or even

months before we’re due to come out – their screening and testing identifies the people we

really need to see.


“We also make a summary list drawn up from some of the previous visits and work out

which patients we need to see and target those who particularly need specialist care and

attention.   


“That may mean laser treatment for some people, particularly those with diabetic eye

problems, or it might be reviews of patients who have had surgery before – just to make sure

things are going well, or preparing patients still needing surgery.


“But by coming to the community we are able to promote eye health more generally and

support local community nurses who are working to promote better health.  They’ll often

bring in people they want us to take a closer look at or to have a talk to about treatments for

particular conditions.  Teamwork is crucial to coping with the many challenges and when we

all work together it makes it all worthwhile.” 


Tim, who is also in charge of eye services at Alice Springs Hospital, believes the focus on

Indigenous eye health by governments, and by organisations such as the Fred Hollows

Foundation; the Eye Foundation; the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress; and the

Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, is delivering innovative solutions to delivering

eye health in the rugged outback.


One such initiative is the intensive eye surgery week or “Eye Blitz” as it is known locally.

This is run out of Alice Springs Hospital.  Up to three times a year big groups of people from

communities across the territory come to Alice Springs for a week of specialist surgery,

particularly for the removal of cataracts and to repair eyes damaged by trachoma.  


Unlike other services where patients attend a major hospital for surgery, the eye surgery

week makes the trip less daunting by arranging family and community support for patients. 

It is a week that Tim loves. He gets to focus solely on his great passion – performing intricate

sight-saving eye surgery. To date, more than 450 people have had sight-saving surgery

through the initiative.


Misc Miscellaneous Department Of Health And Ageing 9 image

“We’ve seen hundreds of people through the surgery weeks.  Many are people I’ve met in the

community who need more complicated surgery.  Our goal is to do at least 10 operations a

day. 


“The difference this surgery can make to people’s lives is beyond measure.  When you

remove a cataract – clouding of the lens in the eye – you are sometimes able to restore sight

to what it was when they were young.  It is often the first time they have been able to see

clearly in years.  It is a moment when people get their lives back.”


The Australian Government is investing millions of dollars to address both the symptoms of

vision problems, and also the underlying social and environmental factors that contribute to

poor eye health in Indigenous communities.


It is providing more than $58 million towards the early detection and treatment of eye and ear

health conditions, which includes funding for the intensive eye surgery weeks in Alice

Springs and an increase in funding for the Visiting Optometrists Scheme.  It also includes

$16 million to boost services combating endemic trachoma in Indigenous communities.


The investment by the Australian Government is critical to supporting people like Tim

Henderson, who are working at the coalface of Indigenous eye health. 


For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the

people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .



(ends)






news articles logo NEWS ARTICLES
Contact News Articles |Remove this article