At the age of five, Lefa Lauryn Rapanyane's sight abruptly deteriorated to the point where she was classified legally blind, and it was even recommended that she be enrolled in a school for the blind to equip her for a life without eyesight.
After years of trying to find help for Lefa, her parents and a dedicated teacher got the assistance they were looking for so desperately – a double cornea transplant to restore her sight – thanks to ophthalmologist, Dr Ebrahim Mia who practises at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, and the Netcare Foundation.
"Lefa, whose name means 'Gift' or 'Inheritance', has always been a very bright little girl. Her teacher became concerned that she was unable to see what was written on the chalkboard at school, and we noticed that even though she could write, she had trouble writing on the lines in her exercise books," the girl's mother, Sello Rapanyane, recalls.
Pic: Nine-year-old Lefa Rapanyane, from Mamelodi, was legally blind before undergoing cornea transplants to both eyes, made possible by the Netcare Foundation and Nedbank Foundation, as well as the specialists who provided their time and expertise pro bono to assist her. Lefa (centre) had her first transplant in 2018, and recently underwent her second cornea transplant. Together, the transplants are expected to significantly improve her vision. Pictured with Lefa ahead of her second procedure at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital were (left to right): circulating nurse, ENA Brown Marotha; Netcare's CSI project and funding manager, Sharlene Swart; Lefa's father, John Madisa; ophthalmologist, Dr Ebrahim Mia; anaesthetist, Dr Karryn Mathie; Lefa's mother, Sello Rapanyane; scrub nurse, RN Lydia Keene; and anaesthetic nurse, ENA Collen Musubi.
The teacher was as determined as Lefa's parents to get to the bottom of the problem with Lefa's eyesight. Knowing that affordability was a concern, as Lefa's mother is unemployed and her father, John Madisa, is a bus driver, the teacher learned of Dr Mia's expertise and the Netcare Foundation's work in providing life-changing healthcare interventions to disadvantaged individuals and communities.
Lefa's parents took her for a consultation with Dr Mia, who diagnosed bilateral keratitis. "When I first assessed Lefa, she was legally blind due to keratitis in both eyes. The corneas were opaque, or hazy, and this was why her vision was impaired," Dr Mia explains.
Dr Mia determined that a double cornea transplant would be the best option to restore Lefa's eyesight, and both he and anaesthetist Dr Karryn Mathie offered their time and expertise to assist the child free of charge. With the Netcare Foundation covering the cost of the donor corneas which had to be flown in from overseas, as well as the hospital and theatre costs, the first cornea transplant was carried out on Lefa's left eye in 2018.
A year later, on 11 June 2019, less than a week before Youth Day, Lefa underwent her second cornea transplant at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital.
"It takes several months for the eye to heal sufficiently for the stitches to be removed, but after her first cornea transplant her vision improved significantly. She could see colour and started to see more detail in her surroundings," Dr Mia explains.
Lefa's mother says that the improvement in her child's vision following the first cornea transplant was in itself remarkable.
"She looked at her baby brother, and she said to me 'wow, my brother is so beautiful'. I realised then that she had not been able to see what he looked like until after her first operation. She could recognise his voice, but could not see his face," she relates.
"Lefa also mentioned that before the first transplant, she hadn't known what her uncle who picks her up from school looked like, and she was so happy to be able to see his face. It is amazing how well she coped considering how poor her eyesight was before the operation."
Dr Mia says that even though the first cornea transplant yielded good results, the second eye would also require surgical intervention. "If only one eye is corrected, the child could, over time, develop a lazy eye and her educational development could fall behind. Lefa is such a bright child, and we want to give her the best possible chance for her future."
He explains that Lefa's vision is anticipated to vastly improve after the second cornea transplant. "She may still require spectacles, however we are expecting her unaided vision to be significantly better. Without the cornea transplants, even the strongest glasses would not have enabled her to see properly."
Lefa's father, Mr Madisa, says the procedures that were made possible by Dr Mia and the Netcare Foundation have opened up a world of opportunities for his daughter.
"She is so brave and she is such a good child. It has not been easy for her, but now her life is going to change for the better," he says.
Mande Toubkin, general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment at Netcare, says that the Netcare Foundation recognised the tremendous difference the cornea transplants could make to Lefa's life and future prospects.
"Many of us take our vision for granted, and the dedication Lefa has demonstrated in trying to succeed at school despite her significantly impaired eyesight shows her incredible strength of character. We are delighted to have assisted her, and have every confidence that with her vision restored she will be ready to make the most of every opportunity in future," notes Toubkin.
The Netcare Foundation was established in 2010 and is registered as a public benefit company governed by a board of trustees. The Nedbank Foundation, which has supported the Gift of Sight project in association with the Netcare Foundation to provide cataract surgery for underprivileged individuals for many years, donated funds towards Lefa's double cornea transplant.
Executive head of the Nedbank Foundation, Lindiwe Temba, said: "Our Foundation's support of Gift of Sight, as well as other healthcare initiatives in South Africa, is a tangible expression of Nedbank's stated purpose to use its expertise and resources to make a positive contribution to the development of our people and communities across the country. It is a great privilege to be able to assist individuals such as Lefa, and we wish her every success for the future."
"We cannot say thank you enough. Thank you to Dr Mia, thank you to the Netcare Foundation, thank you to Netcare Waterfall City Hospital and all the doctors and nurses who have helped care for Lefa. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has helped our daughter," her proud father notes.
"For years, we have prayed to God for a miracle, and now Lefa is being blessed with the gift of sight. She says that when she grows up she wants to be a doctor and help people with their eyes, so maybe one day she can even study to be an ophthalmologist – just like Dr Mia," Mr Madisa concluded.
Issued by: MNA on behalf of Netcare Foundation
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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