Adelaide based filmmaker, Lara Damiani, captured the story of Vietnamese mother Pham Minh Hiep and her baby Chi when she travelled recently with Sight For All Chairman, Dr James Muecke. Chi has retinoblastoma, a rare but deadly eye cancer and has just had surgery to remove her right eye, a procedure that has ultimately saved her life. Lara’s moving story recounts her experience in Vietnam.
When I was first sat down to write this short article for the Sight For All Newsletter on my recent experience filming in Vietnam, I stared at a blank page for a very long time.
Over the course of many days, I wrote and re-wrote to try and find the best way to tell the story of what I’d experienced just a few short weeks ago but I just couldn’t find the right way to string the words together that would convey all the emotions the trip stirred in me or find the right way to describe the real difference that Sight For All is making.
On my second day filming, I stood in one of about 6 operating rooms at the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology filming an eye being removed from a 2 month old baby girl. I actually spent quite a bit of time, the night before, preparing myself emotionally for this. It was my first time filming anything in an operating theatre. Filming a tiny baby’s eye being removed – well how can anyone really be prepared for that. The eye removal was critical, the doctors had told the family the day before, if the baby was to have a chance of survival.
The baby was bought into the operating room by her young mother who stood emotional as she lay her little baby down on the operating bed, trying to comfort her and watching as the anesthetists began their work. I remember having my camera on the young mother who started crying. I braced myself and kept steady to capture what she was going through.
The surgeons from the VNIO who performed the procedure, Dr Chau assisted by Dr Trang were working under the guidance of Australian Ophthalmologist, Retinoblastoma specialist and Sight For All Chairman, Dr James Muecke.
After the operation, I captured another powerful moment when the baby’s mother, Pham Minh Hiep, sat on the floor of the recovery room holding her baby – along with many other parents, babies and children. She sat because the recovery room has no furniture, only mats on the floor. She sat holding her small baby very close and the immensity of her love was obvious.
This was my first real experience being on the ground with Sight For All. My journey continued filming more procedures, more parents being told sad news as well as a bus journey into Northern Vietnam following the family of 2 year old Bang who has childhood retinoblastoma.
It was an emotional whirlwind experience – one that saw me first in Hanoi, then on an overnight bus to the mountains of north Vietnam and later to Dhaka in Bangladesh. But it was one that really brought home for me, the impact and extent of Sight For All’s work. And one that I’ll never forget.