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A Clear Future

Norwyn K.

Blogger and entrepreneur Norwyn K approached Orbis Africa in 2016 after seeing ‘The Walk’ on DSTV when he realised that he wants to be part of the work that Orbis Africa does. Having first-hand experience in dealing with treatable visual impairment, he has a passion for bettering the lives of others living with life-changing conditions and his enthusiasm for making a lasting difference in the world is infectious. He’s currently writing his first book which speaks to overcoming adversity and shares the title of First Orbis Champion.

 

If I asked you to cover your left eye, what would you see?

It’s a moment that I will never forget: when an optometrist asked me to do that myself. As simple as that may sound and as uneventful of a request as it seems, it’s one that changed my whole life.

It started off just like any other Saturday for me, a 21-year-old with no real motivation to do anything of great importance that day. I lived with my mom at the time and we were both still dealing with the difficult couple of years that we had endured. The passing away of my sister, a messy divorce and hopping from house to house with no stability in our lives really does tend to shake one up. Combine this with financial struggles and you can imagine how life seemed really out of whack.

I remained positive that things would change and our situation would eventually turn around at some point, but little did I know that my wish would be granted in a more tangible way than I could ever have thought. For a long time I had a slight itch in my right eye but I can’t recall exactly when it started. As time went by the itch became more persistent until I finally decided one day that it might be a good idea to have it checked it out. I never thought that a seemingly benign itch could be anything more than just that. In hindsight, this was probably just the story I told myself to remain ignorant to the possibility of something being worse than what I wanted to believe.

I wasn’t quite ready for the moment my optometrist asked me to cover my left eye and tell him what I could see: nothing, I could not see a thing. As you can imagine, my face had autopiloted the process of draining the colour away from it. I could almost hear my heart-rate increasing and the fear building. At first I didn’t know what to think when he told me that I have ‘keratoconus’; what does that even mean? He proceeded to explain that I was suffering from a degenerative eye disease and that my cornea was taking a turn for the worse.

It felt like the final kick in the teeth: how could I be dealt this hand? As if it wasn’t bad enough having to deal with so much pain in my life already, this was just the cherry on top.

All I could do was brace myself for the ride that I was about to undertake. It was a painful and difficult one having to deal with all the operations that would follow for what seemed like months on end. There are few things that I could say scared me over the years, but the chance of not being able to see was the scariest thing of them all. With keratoconus, there are no guarantees that you will have your eyesight back to normal. What scared me even more was the thought of going for a corneal transplant. Do not Google things that you don’t want to see, take my advice on this.

A compounding problem, especially in South Africa, is a lack of organ donors. Many people who suffer with severe and rare eye conditions might have to import a donor eye from another country and by the time that happens, months could have passed which results in their condition progressively getting worse. Not even mentioning the costs involved in taking this route. Then there are the medical aids which often don’t cover some of the important procedures that you need to undergo, if you’re lucky enough to have private medical aid.  Mine simply said that ‘’it is a cosmetic procedure’’, not even entertaining the thought of me losing my vision and the immense impact this will have on my well-being.

“A compounding problem, especially in South Africa, is a lack of organ donors.”

After years without the ability to see at night and the constant headaches I would get from looking at a screen for prolonged periods of time due to work, without being able to watch TV or movies properly, without being able to read signs and even recognising people’s faces, I made a conscious decision to change. I decided that I could either continue living with a victim-mentality or I could choose to live with a victor mind-set, taking back control of my life and focusing on the things I have and am grateful for. I tapped into my learnings of what it meant to live in the light of positivity instead of in the shadow of pessimism. I starting realising how incredibly blessed I was to have a left eye that was a complete soldier and would till this day, carry the weight and allow me to still see and function in the world, albeit not at perfect 20/20 standards.

Today I wear spectacles which helps me see a little better, however, all the procedures and operations couldn’t save my right eye. I am still practically blind in my right eye with the disease having affected most of the cornea. But here is the funny thing: this journey has been one of the greatest lessons of my life and I have learnt that your darkest hours can propel you to your brightest of days. I have such a great appreciation for every little thing in my life and all the wonderful things I still get the privilege of seeing every day. My life has changed for the better because of my disability and I can see more clearly now than ever before because I now see the important things, I am not blinded by the insignificance of what’s around us. Who knew it would take me losing my vision in order to give me that. This experience has made me so passionate about helping more people and bringing about awareness of the impact eye conditions have on the lives of so many people in our country (and indeed, the world!).

As someone with first-hand experience of the challenges of losing some of my vision, I have dedicated my life to inspiring others who may be going through similar circumstances and showing them that there is always hope and that one always has a choice and a path that you can take to turn any pain into purpose. My journey has taken me to discovering the work that Orbis Africa does and being a champion of this amazing cause is one of the greatest and proudest moments of my life. I live for the value that I hope to add in other people’s lives and through my own story and actions, inspire the hearts of all those who need it most. Saving Sight in Africa is my purpose and I believe that we can all make a difference to the world if we live in our truths, which I believe, is to promote the humanity that exists in all of us.

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