Baby may see again, thanks to Singaporeans

Baby may see again, thanks to Singaporeans

A blind baby from Bhutan, Tandin Wangmo, could soon enjoy the gift of sight, thanks to four Singaporeans with hearts of gold.

The four - lawyer Quek Li Fei, 55, and his wife Petrine, 59, her sister, retiree Priscilla Yap, 67, and dentist Dr Chng Chai Kiat, 39 - were on a week-long holiday in Bhutan last September when they learnt of the 16-month-old's plight.

Their tour guide, Mr Karma Tenzin, had told them that his second daughter would have no future as a blind person in the kingdom, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas.

Touched by his story, the Singaporeans paid for the toddler and her mother to fly to Singapore not once, but twice - first to restore her health and then her sight.

Tandin was born premature at 27 weeks with a low birth weight of 950g. She developed health issues, one of which was retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

This disease in pre-term babies causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina, detaching it from the back of the eye, resulting in blindness.

Mrs Quek told The New Paper at Gleneagles Medical Centre, where Tandin was having a check-up before flying home today: "Her father Karma was our guide. When he told us about Tandin, our hearts went out to her. We decided to help her."

"My husband and I do not have children. To see someone this young dealt with a bad hand at the start of her life, we felt compelled (to help)," she added, eyes brimming with tears. She hosted the family at their landed home and even got her 90-year-old mother and a friend to chip in for the medical costs, "which came up to about $18,000".

"Others contributed a hongbao here and there," she said.

Dr Chng, who heads the Dental Service at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, rallied his doctor friends, many of whom waived their consultation fees or charged "a very modest surgery fee".

If it was not for this, Tandin's fees would have been about $30,000.


Tandin's parents had done all they could to restore her eyesight after doctors in Bhutan told them just after she was born that she has ROP.

They had all but given up hope after failing to find suitable treatment in neighbouring India.

Her mother, Ms Tshearing Eden, 34, said: "We took her first to Calcutta for laser treatment but Tandin's condition was worse than what the doctors thought.

We then took her to Chennai's Sankara Eye Hospital for an operation but it was hopeless."

Mrs Quek said: "When Tandin first came in early November, she had just recovered from three long bouts of bronchitis. We couldn't go through with the eye surgery."

The toddler was given a thorough check-up, which was when doctors found the Eustachian tubes (which connect the middle ears to the back of the throat) were blocked.

"She also couldn't hear," Mrs Quek said.

Otolaryngologist Dawn Teo operated on Tandin's ears at the same time as her eye operation to clear the blockage.

Ms Tshearing and her baby went home and returned to Singapore last month for the eye operation after Tandin recovered fully from bronchitis.

On Dec 29, retina surgeon Loh Boon Kwang operated on the baby for 1½ hours.

"Tandin's ROP was very serious. I assessed that her left eye would respond better to surgery, so I performed the vitrectomy to remove the scars within the left eyeball," said Dr Loh, who has a practice at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

"I had to cut away the scars carefully and let the retina reattach itself.

"In layman's terms, it's like removing the old gum that has pushed the wallpaper away from the wall and leaving the paper to reattach again.

"The retina had been stretched by the scars and was very thin. I had to make sure I did not make a hole in it."

Dr Loh said the instruments used were designed for adults and not so suitable for children as young as Tandin, who have much smaller eyes "but there are no better alternatives".

"This made the operation difficult. There was no room for error," he said.

Now all parties are waiting for Tandin's retina to slowly reattach itself.

"Part of the retina is already reattaching back but the whole process could take months to years," Dr Loh said.

He gave Tandin a pair of prescription glasses after the operation and they have helped the toddler become more responsive to light and shadows.

The mother and daughter will be back in April for an operation to fix her right eye.

A grateful Ms Tshearing said: "We were very lucky to have met so many kind-hearted people from Singapore, who were willing to help my daughter see again."

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