Back when Zodwa Maseko was a young girl in Grade II, she was diagnosed with short-sightedness (or myopia) and spectacles were prescribed. Zodwa really didn’t enjoy the fact that she had to wear spectacles, and was secretly delighted when her toddler sister broke them! It was only when she attended University to study Journalism and Library Science that she realised that her eyesight wasn’t what it should be; and that she couldn’t read what was written on the board at the front of the lecture room.
She was fortunately amongst the very first to trial contact lenses which were new on the market, but that was until she contracted eye infections in both eyes. Zodwa later realised that her vision had always been sensitive to dust, light, pollens and so on. What followed next was Radial Keratotomy (RK) Eye Surgery in both eyes, her specialist Dr Percy Amoils. (In the eighties this procedure was once of the most common ways to correct nearsightedness. However with the rise of more effective procedures like LASEK, LASIK and PRK, it is now considered outdated). For a period of some ten years Zodwa enjoyed good vision, but thereafter discovered that she needed reading assistance – as is the norm with the gradual onset of the more mature years. What followed was a number of visits to various specialists, (including Dr Jan Talma at the Pretoria Eye Institute), where Zodwa received surgery and permanent lenses.
After numerous treatments to address the macular degeneration in her left eye, Zodwa was given the news that a cornea transplant would be the very last resort. When this situation eventually arose the problem facing Zodwa was that the cornea would have to be sourced from overseas; as a result of the severe shortage of donor cornea tissue in South Africa. This type of procedure is costly and Zodwa feels extremely fortunate that she is currently a long-term member of an exceptional medical scheme.
Zodwa obtained authorisation from her Medical Scheme for the procedure in January 2016, but only received her cornea transplant on 10 May 2016. Zodwa recalls that the procedure was relatively quick, and that after the overnight recovery period she could clearly make out the chair in the specialist’s room once the protective eye cover was removed. Initially Zodwa used steroids as an anti rejection measure, with as many as 6 or 7 different eye drops requiring 2 hourly administration. Nowadays Zodwa uses 3 eye drops twice per day.
Unfortunately, only some six months later saw Zodwa being admitted several times over the December/January period to receive treatment for a fungus that had since developed in her eye between the cornea and the retina. Tests showed that ‘sugar’ was at the root of the cause. Although Zodwa has a family history of diabetes Type II, she herself has never suffered with the affliction. She is now on diabetic medication to control the sugar levels, and will require another cornea transplant to remedy the loss of vision and heightened light sensitivity.
For the time being she must wear sunglasses constantly.
Zodwa and her family members are all registered as organ donors, and Zodwa uses every available opportunity to educate and create awareness around organ and tissue donation. A topic she herself knew nothing about prior to her cornea transplant.
Zodwa is a fierce advocate for educating her people around their beliefs that the human body must remain intact following death, or face the displeasure of the ancestors. She feels blessed to have received the cornea donation, and is grateful to the donor family for their selfless gift which ultimately saved her vision in her left eye. Realising the value of becoming an organ and tissue donor and how this can change someone’s life for the better, Zodwa has enlisted as a volunteer and encourages everyone she knows to register!
It is a tragedy that Zodwa was unable to receive a cornea sooner via a local tissue/eye bank. There is currently an enormous discrepancy between the numbers of registered donors and patients still on the waiting list, and still in dire need of a transplant. A great deal more education and awareness is needed here in South Africa.
We believe Zodwa is a hero who through her volunteer work is breaking through cultural taboos, and educating more of her peers to understand the need for organ and tissue donation, especially when they may someday find themselves in a similar situation, and needing assistance.
Zodwa was also one of the tissue donor recipients who took part in the Pretoria Donor Tribute (03 September 2016) to pay tribute to their donors and honour the donor families. She fully comprehends the value of becoming an organ and tissue donor and how this can change someone’s life for the better.