Poor corneal conditions are one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in South Africa. A corneal transplant can restore or improve vision in most cases. However, South Africa has a shortage of corneal tissue and much needs to be done to create awareness of this huge problem, and bring attention to the importance of donating soft tissue.1

With this top of mind, Ster-Kinekor has led the way since 2005 with its flagship CSI programme Vision Mission, and spread the message of the importance of eye health. At an event held on the (16 May 2018), beneficiaries of Vision Mission, who received corneal transplants were celebrated. Ster-Kinekor’s Mall of Africa cinema was abuzz with excitement and the topic of corneal transplants was high on the agenda. The event brought attention to corrective eye surgery and the positive impact it has in the lives of learners, especially those from disadvantaged communities.

On the guest list were grade 11 learners and educators from Steve Tshwete Secondary School, Vision Mission partners and opti eyewear optometrist Dr Refiloe Pheladi, who did free eye screenings for learners. Experts in corrective eye surgery, Dr Akiel Asvat, an oculoplastic surgeon, who performs corneal transplants pro-bono, Lynne Pickering, a Senior Registered Nurse and manager of the Gauteng Cornea and Eye Bank and Department of Health representative Karen Koetsie were also in attendance. The trio were panelists in a discussion about corneal transplants.

Learners were treated to a burger breakfast before the formalities began. Ster-Kinekor’s Head of CSI, Wellness and Transformation, Geraldine Engelman, welcomed guests and explained the purpose of event.

Thereafter, MC Sifikile Zondi facilitated the panel discussion, which focused on the sourcing, procurement and distribution of corneas for transplantation in the public and private sector, education about keratoconus, the importance of corneal transplants and the need for more soft tissue donations, so more learners from disadvantaged communities could have corrective eye surgery.

Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease in which the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. This cone shape deflects light as it enters the eye on its way to the light-sensitive retina, causing distorted vision.2

The discussion aligned with the objectives of Vision Mission, which are:

  • To contribute to the elimination of refractive errors in underprivileged learners;
  • To increase awareness of poor vision as a major public health issue in South Africa;
  • To align with the World Health Organisation’s 20/20 Vision Project, which aims eradicate preventable blindness by the year 2020;
  • To make a difference in many lives on a sustainable basis;
  • To involve Ster-Kinekor customers in the project by inviting them to make voluntary financial contributions; and
  • to fund, manage and drive project implementation.

Two Vision Mission beneficiaries, who received corneal transplants, spoke at the event. Nineteen-year-old University of Pretoria student, Hassan Monyemakwele, received the corneal transplant last year and shared a heart-warming story about how the surgery changed his life.

The first-year BSc (Mathematics) student said, “I’ve always had bad vision, but last year, my vision got worse. I went to Dr. Asvat for a check-up, and was overwhelmed when he told me shortly afterwards that Vision Mission would sponsor my surgery. Today, I can finally see my mother’s face, and there are no words to describe that feeling,” he said.

One of Hassan’s new-found hobbies is learning magic tricks, and the ambitious young man wants to be both a magician and mathematician in the future.

Another beneficiary, Shannon Micdonald (16), was diagnosed with keratoconus when she was just six years old.

“I had my first surgery on my left eye in 2013. Thereafter, Dr. Asvat put me on the Vision Mission waiting list. In February this year, I had the corneal transplant on my right eye,” she said.

The grade 11 learner said she views the world in a better way now, and that the surgery has helped her be more productive at school.

“I can clearly see the chalkboard in class and take down notes. I want to do well at school because I want to be a psychologist or a lawyer when I finish school,” said Shannon.

She said that the event was a great experience and that she learnt more about her condition.

“I also enjoyed the movie and the delicious food. It was a fun day,” Shannon added.

After the beneficiaries spoke, Ster-Kinekor treated learners to popcorn and coke combos, and a movie screening of My Blind Date With Life. The movie is inspired by the true story of Saliya, who becomes nearly blind as a teenager. Against all odds, he realises his life-long dream of working in a luxury hotel. Without telling anyone that he cannot see, he lands an apprenticeship in the most prestigious hotel.

The learners each received a take-away lunch and gifts, and there were smiles all around.

Generous sponsors helped make the event a success, which spoke to a core pillar of Vision Mission to engage all stakeholders to play their part to effect positive change in the lives of learners by focusing on eye health. Together with its partners, Vision Mission identifies schools within the communities in which Ster-Kinekor cinemas operate that would benefit from the programme’s services. In addition, Vision Mission is committed to find effective ways to secure more strategic partnerships and explore innovative ways to contribute to eye health.

Vision Mission partners for the day were:

  • Department of Health;
  • Gauteng Cornea Eye Bank;
  • Surgeon Dr. Akiel Asvat, who is instrumental to ensuring that Vision Mission’s corneal       transplants are a success;
  • McDonalds;
  • Spur;
  • Biggi Brands;
  • Slush Puppie; and
  • DNA Zizi Transport.

Engelmann, said, “Head of CSI and Transformation at Ster-Kinekor Theatres

Engelmann, said, “Vision Mission has evolved from providing spectacles to now proving children with corneal transplant surgery. As we go through the fourth revolution of digitalization, Vision Mission is moving progressively in the same direction. With the technological advancement in medicine, laser surgery mitigates the risk of traditional corneal transplant surgery.

Article by Nicholas Munzhedzi

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