January 11, 2010

THAILAND: Ten poor and elderly who lost sight given Bt300,000 each

. BANGKOK, Thailand / The Nation / January 11, 2010 KHON KAEN HOSPITAL IN THE DARK By Saovalak Kongpakpoon, Sompoch Sombat, Chayanont Praneet The Nation, Khon Kaen City As the mysteries continues over how so many patients in a charitable eye-operation programme for the old and poor got infected and went blind, ten victims struggle to cope as their lives go from bad to worse. Cataract surgery been part of a government healthcare project that gave hope and shed light on darkness. But operations at Khon Kaen Hospital have become haunting nightmares for 10 patients who are now blind in at least one eye. The loss of eyesight came from serious infections that took place right inside the surgical theatre, adding to the pain and suffering of the old and poor, who had chosen the cheap, state-sponsored operations as a last resort. "My heart broke," Jai Mankong said tearfully. He sighed deeply when looking at his security-guard uniform. "I'm struggling hard to adjust to my life at home, let alone to resuming work. It will be a very long absence from my job," he said. One of his eyes was removed following the infection. Nang Oun-sua, 65, said she cried a lot because the partial blindness caused much difficulty for her life. "I cannot even walk unassisted in my home," she said. She used to believe that she was so familiar with her house that she could walk around with her eyes closed. However, now that she is blind in one eye, she knows she was wrong. "I walked right into a pole inside the house and fell down," she said. Another victim, Uam Kaeso, was still trembling when asked about her condition. She lost the sight of her left eye after undergoing cataract surgery at the hospital. "I don't want to talk about it," the widow said. Her husband had just died and she was hardly getting over it when the eye infection added salt to her emotional wounds. Other blinded patients are hardly better off. Wan Kamnongpai, 69, is now spending his life in front of a TV set that he can never see again. Blind in his right eye since childhood, the man has now become totally sightless because his other eye got seriously infected during the recent cataract surgery. He can no longer live a normal life. With his wife by his side, Wan has chosen to listen to the voices from the TV to prevent him from getting too depressed. See earlier report Peng Kongsee confessed that the partial blindness had hurt her deeply. "I was shocked and grieved," she said about her feelings when her doctor told her that her right eye would never see again. Through encouragement from her children and the doctors' pledge to take good care of her health, Peng has been trying hard to get over her loss. "I have to tell myself that I might have done something wrong in my past life and the bad deeds were getting at me," she said. Her daughter, Jariya Ployres, said she felt so sorry for her mother. Crying has now left her eyes so red. Niyom Saengnoy's chicken-rice stall has been closed for nearly one month now. It was because he has not yet been able to return to a normal life after he lost the sight of his right eye because of the fateful cataract operation. "At first, the loss was too much to bear. I kept blaming the doctors," Niyom said. But after hearing their explanations, he was totally convinced that no doctor would ever want to blind his patients. "So I keep telling myself that my life will have to go on. I will fight on," he said. He plans to return to his chicken-rice stall as soon as he has fully recovered. Dr Weerasak Anut-angkoon, head of the hospital's ophthalmology division, said the case doctors were also deeply hurt about what happened to their patients. "They have taken leave and turned to temples in a bid to seek peace of mind," he said. Weerasak said no doctor wanted such things to happen. "But now that they happened, we will do our best to help the affected patients and to prevent such complications from happening in the future," he said. Pan Janruang, one of the victims, thinks doctors showed responsibility for what had happened. "So, I hold no grudges against them. By the way, if they fail to honour the promise to give me free treatment throughout my life, I will sue them," Pan said. All the blinded patients were those receiving cataract surgery at Khon Kaen Hospital from December 14-15. Each of these 10 patients are entitled to Bt300,000 compensation, free medical services for life and, if their eyes were removed, free quality artificial eyeballs. Thongpak Thongrak, who received only Bt50,000 compensation, was the only fortunate one to get infected without losing her eyesight. Bacterial infection affected her eye but another operation saved it. "I was over the moon when I found out about one week later that I can still see," she said. [rc] (c) 2007 NMG News Co., Ltd.