‘I can see you now!’ 

ESTELLA Buscay’s four-year-old grandson, Matthew, serves as her eyes inside and outside the house. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF TZU CHI EYE CENTER

Estella Buscay, 56, noticed the first sign of cataracts in 2019. She went to their local optical shop in Novaliches, Quezon City, where she was prescribed eyeglasses. She wore the lenses until they could no longer serve her.

“The optometrist told her that she needed to consult with an ophthalmologist because eyeglasses could not help her condition anymore,” Estella’s daughter, 27-year-old Jennelyn, recalls.

Estella eventually became cataract-blind, leaving her with no better option than to quit her job as a helper at a local canteen. Then, as if by a cruel twist of fate, her husband, Joel, also got relieved from work.

“Since my eyesight was becoming blurry, I could no longer drive well and so my employer had to let me go,” Joel, 58, shares. He worked as a driver and embalmer at a funeral parlor.

With both parents unemployed and impaired by cataracts, the family’s economic situation also suffered. Jennelyn, who worked as a customer service representative and was raising a son all by herself, took care of the bills and the family’s daily expenses.

Joel could not bear to leave all the responsibilities on his beloved daughter’s shoulders so he decided to help as much as his eyes would allow. Every day, from morning until afternoon, he would scavenge for recyclable materials around their neighborhood and sell them to junkshops.

“At least it earns me modest money. No matter, it helps us get through the day,” Joel says, adding that he makes P150 to P300 from this “trade.”

Whenever her daughter and husband were out earning a living, Estella was left home with her 4-year-old grandson, Matthew. The little boy would serve as his grandmother’s eyes, guiding her in going to the restroom or descending the stairs from their boarding room unit to get some fresh air outdoors.

Jennelyn brought Estella to a government hospital for a consultation only to be discouraged by the cost of surgery. Then they came across Tzu Chi Eye Center through social media.

Estella had her eyes checked by Tzu Chi’s volunteer ophthalmologists in March 2023. She was instructed to undergo laboratory and diagnostic tests to secure a medical clearance for surgery. Unable to afford the said tests, Estella and the family put off the surgery until they had enough money.

Months passed. In February, Tzu Chi Eye Center partnered with 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and Japanese humanitarian-eye surgeon Dr. Tadashi Hattori for a surgical outreach that aimed to benefit 200 Filipino patients coming from marginalized families. In preparation, Tzu Chi volunteers manually called up patients who had not visited since the day they were advised to undergo surgery. Volunteers informed them about the surgical outreach, which would also provide free laboratory and diagnostic tests, as well as pre-operative evaluation by volunteer Internal Medicine doctors. Jennelyn and her mom jumped for joy when they received the call.

An endless stream of tears flowed freely down Buscay’s cheeks after learning she would finally undergo cataract surgery.

“I have been enduring poor vision this whole time because we do not have the money to afford the treatment,” she says. “I cannot thank Tzu Chi enough for this opportunity.”

On 20 February, the first day of the surgical outreach, Estella finally underwent a cataract removal operation.

Estella barely recognized her husband after the successful surgery.

“I cannot believe you have grown this old over the years that I could not see you,” she tells him.

Then, turning to her grandson Matthew, Estella cries: “Dear, I can see you now! You have grown so lovely!”

Matthew was two years old when Estella had a last hazy picture of him.

“This is the happiest I have ever been! For four years, I was practically blind but now I can finally see my loved ones again!”

“Thank you, Tzu Chi Eye Center! If it were not for you, my wife would not have been able to undergo surgery,” Joel says after their family’s heartwarming reunion.

The dark, hopeless days of the Buscay family were behind them now. From this day on, with hearts brimming with joy and optimism, life will begin again. (Article and photo from Tzu Chi Medical Foundation PH as published on Medium.com)