What closing the gap means for Dennis and Kiara

24 Mar 2023

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are experiencing blindness and vision loss at three times the rate of other Australians. And when a condition or disease is diagnosed, they are waiting longer for surgery accounting for 11% of the health gap.

These statistics are not acceptable, but it is only with community support that the imbalance can be corrected.

That’s why, in 2021, Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation recognised it must step up and play a vital role in enabling equal access for regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the expert care at Sydney Eye Hospital.

Here’s how two patients have been supported by the early phases of the Foundation’s strategy to close the gap.

Kiara and Linda closing the gap

Kiara and Linda (pictured above)

Kiara’s story

Kiara is just 23 years of age but has already been diagnosed with early-onset type 2 diabetes, severe diabetic peripheral neuropathy, nephrotic syndrome and neovascular glaucoma in her right eye from diabetic retinopathy. Sadly, the sight in her left eye couldn’t be saved after complications.

Over the years, the young Dubbo local’s heath issues have been compounded by not having access to transport and finances to get to doctor’s appointments and to pay for the medications she’s so desperately needed.

When Kiara’s right eye became sore and inflamed, she sought medical help from the Brewarrina Multipurpose Service, a small rural hospital and health provider that referred her to Sydney Eye Hospital.

Because of the work the Foundation has done to date to close the gap, Kiara was able to access financial assistance and most importantly help from a Social Worker and Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer at Sydney Eye Hospital so she could get specialist treatment that would prevent her from being completely blind.

The extra level of care provided ensured Kiara was treated with dignity and cultural sensitivity so as not to feel isolated from family in a large city hospital. It also opened doors to other specialist aid and healthcare services that would help her get back on her feet such as Aboriginal Medical Services, physiotherapists and gastroenterologists.

Now Kiara has advocates on her side to support her with transport when she needs it, the medications vital to her wellbeing, and continued ophthalmology input to save as much vision as possible in her right eye.

Dennis’s story

For Dennis, 2022 was a year that promised lots of special moments. Right up there was getting married to his partner Aaliyah and watching as his baby daughter Ava learned to swim.

Instead of enjoying a honeymoon and revelling in being a new dad, the disability support worker from Palmerston, NT was in and out of Royal Darwin Hospital with an extremely rare eye disease that had multiple complications. At times he worried he would lose his sight altogether, and he lamented not being able to live his normally sporty and active life.

Aaliyah was by his side whenever she could get away from her very busy role in the housing and homelessness sector, and of course looking after Ava on her own. But for Dennis, it was vital she was there as “she is very good at asking the right questions”.

The young parents’ resources were stretched as it was, so when Dennis was referred to Sydney Eye Hospital, they didn’t know how they’d pull it off financially let alone logistically to ensure he would get the help he needed.

With thanks to donations to the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation, Dennis and Aaliyah were able to be introduced to a Social Worker and Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer at Sydney Eye Hospital to smooth the way.

From advocacy work to arranging support for accommodation, the couple were incredibly grateful that barriers, which had become enormous stressors, were removed.

“Thanks so much again for doing all of this for us,” wrote the newlyweds. “You made it a world easier for us and made us feel looked after away from home.”

How you can help

Both Dennis and Kiara are incredibly grateful for all the support they received through Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation and its generous donors.

At the same time, their experiences along with a recent gap analysis conducted with health professionals, illuminated more opportunities to step up assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when it comes to eye care.

The new Foundation Action Plan, created in collaboration with stakeholders from Prince of Wales Hospital, SESLHD Aboriginal Liaison Office, NSW Rural Doctors Network, Optometry NSW, and the Brien Holden Foundation will provide access in three ways.

Regional Access

Visiting ophthalmologists will provide clinical and surgical expertise in conjunction with local services at new and established outreach clinics.

Virtual Access

A clinic with telemedicine connections and capacity to ensure follow-up locally will imporve quality of care and outcomes. 

Specialist Access

A new culturally sensitive clinic for Indigenous peoples at Sydney Eye Hospital will overcome barriers to care.

We can only do this with your help.