Saving Little Marla From A Life of Blindness

September 2020

Little Marla was born with congenital cataracts. If she hadn't received surgery at an Orbis-supported hospital in Mongolia, she would have suffered permanent vision loss. Now, she is just one member of the generations of children who can now grow up to lead independent lives with healthy sight.​

Ever since we posted Marla’s story on social media last year, thousands of people have commented on, shared, and liked her photos — and that’s understandable!

Marla is an adorable little girl from Mongolia who loves the color pink, has a toddler’s boundless energy, and enjoys playing with her toys.

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Click the post to glimpse the thousands of wonderful messages left for little Marla by the Orbis community

Marla’s life could have been much different. Like her mother, father, and maternal grandmother, she was born with congenital cataracts — a clouding of the eye’s natural lens that can render a child blind.

Marla’s doctor urged her parents to take her to the National Center for Maternal and Child Health (NCMCH), an Orbis partner hospital in Ulaanbaatar, when Marla was just 19 days old.

At NCMCH, Dr. Shamsiya Murat examined her, confirmed the diagnosis — and knew she had to act quickly. If congenital cataracts aren’t treated when an infant is between six and eight weeks old, the child will have permanent vision loss.

Despite her family’s fears, Dr. Murat performed the surgery when this little girl was 42 days old — and Marla became the youngest person in Mongolia to receive cataract surgery.

Pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Shamsiya Murat performed Marla's cataracts surgery

Pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Shamsiya Murat performed Marla's cataracts surgery

Marla’s mother had surgery when she was two years old, but it was too late to restore her sight. That’s why Marla’s grandmother was eager for her granddaughter to receive care immediately. She didn’t want the third generation of her family to struggle.

Marla’s mother remembers that a few weeks after the procedure, her daughter looked toward her and started to make sounds, which indicated that she could see!

Marla's mother and grandmother were also born with congenital cataracts

Marla's mother didn't want her to be visually impaired by congenital cataracts like she was

Marla still wears corrective lenses but is expected to make a full recovery. Her parents are both massage therapists at a facility that employs people who are visually impaired, and they are fortunately able to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, they are doing well — and eagerly awaiting the birth of their second child. According to her mother, three-year-old Marla is very excited to be a big sister!

Marla and her mother outside their traditional ger in rural Mongolia

Marla and her mother, Bulgantamir, outside their traditional home called a ger.

Thanks to the generosity of our kind supporters, children like Marla are able to receive the top-quality eye care they need and deserve for generations to come.

Already, your support has helped us to screen more than 97,000 children in schools, communities and hospitals to date, including more than 1,000 babies who have been screened for retinopathy of prematurity at our partner NCMCH.

Despite our successes, there is still more work to do! In Mongolia, access to high quality, affordable eye care services is limited in both urban and rural areas.

Lack of equipment, training and infrastructure are major barriers to adequate care and there is no comprehensive framework to treat children’s eye disease. With the help of our supporters, we can achieve so much more.

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