S'poreans pull together to help Bhutan baby see again

S'poreans pull together to help Bhutan baby see again
Eye surgeon Loh Boon Kwang examining Tandin Wangmo, while mother Tshearing Eden, looks on. Tandin, from Bhutan, was premature at 27 weeks and has Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) in both eyes.

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

While on a week-long holiday in Bhutan in September, lawyer Quek Li Fei, 55, his wife Petrine, 59, her sister, retiree Priscilla Yap, 67, and dentist Chng Chai Kiat, 39, learnt of the 16-month-old girl's plight from her father Karma Tenzin, who was their tour guide.

Touched by his story, the Singaporeans paid for the girl, Tandin Wangmo, and her mother to fly to Singapore twice - first to restore her health and then her sight.

Tandin was born premature at 27 weeks, with a birth weight of just 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, resulting in blindness.

Mrs Quek told The New Paper at Gleneagles Medical Centre, where Tandin was having a check-up before flying home yesterday: "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 home, and got her mother and a friend to chip in for the medical costs, "which came up to about $18,000".

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

If not for this, Tandin's fees would have come up to $30,000.

Her mother, 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."

During a check-up, doctors found that Tandin's Eustachian tubes (which connect the middle ears to the back of the throat) were blocked.

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 then went home and returned to Singapore last month for the eye operation.

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

Dr Loh said the instruments used were designed for adults and not so suitable for children as young as Tandin, "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, and she will return with her mother 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."

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.


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