Thursday, Jun 04

Closing the distance with heartfelt dedication

October 10, 2017 | Jonas Trinidad

A smile stretches across Janel Santillan’s face, a bandage on her forehead a sign of a successful surgery. This was taken after her left eye surgery on August 9, marking the end of her suffering from inborn cataracts. Her eyes regain their natural black color, devoid of the blinding condition. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】

Story Highlights

  • With no clear origin, six-month-old Janel Santillan was born with cataracts on both eyes. Fortunately, the treatment for cataracts remains the same. TIMA doctors restore her eyesight over the course of months.

  • The effort of traveling from Guimba, Nueva Ecija to Manila and back should serve as an example of dedication. Distance must not be a factor in determining the kind of people to receive help.


The origins of six-month-old Janel Santillan’s cataracts remain a mystery to this day. None in the family had any history of cataracts or any related eye disease, making the mystery even more perplexing. Soon enough, Janel’s case changed everything people knew about cataracts.

It’s not just for adults.

Cataracts among newborns, although rare, are not impossible. The causes may vary according to doctors, but the most usual are inherited. Regardless, the procedure for a cataract surgery remains the same: drain the cataract and install a fresh lens. Time, however, is of the essence as the chances of clear vision dwindle as the baby grows.

Perhaps time was the impetus for her mother Julie Ann to seek all avenues of aid. The three-hour trip to Manila from her hometown of Guimba, Nueva Ecija hardly discouraged her from seeking help.

“I’ll do anything for my baby. The doctor told me that if I let [Janel’s cataracts] be, she will go blind. Even if we have to leave early in the day here, we make the trip to Manila for her sake,” Julie Ann says.

The round trip by bus costs almost Php 500. None in the household has a stable job, so Janel’s grandmother Purificacion has to borrow money from neighbors. She also sold her plot of arable land for Php 100,000 for the surgery, albeit she worries that it might not be enough.

“[TIMA ophthalmologist] Dr. Macaraig told us that an eye surgery at a private hospital costs Php 42,500 per eye. The Php 100,000 may not be enough for both eyes,” says Purificacion, accounting for other expenses like their stay at the hospital.

And it was this Dr. Catherine Macaraig that led the family to Tzu Chi.

“We were referred to Tzu Chi Foundation. We planned on going to a private hospital, but the checkup alone would cost us Php 3,000. At least Tzu Chi offers a free checkup,” says Julie Ann.

Soon, the pieces fell into place. At Dr. Macaraig’s care, Janel underwent cataract surgery at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital. Her vision on the right eye was restored on May 10, while that on her left on August 9. Because of her tender age, the break in between operations was longer than usual.

By mid-September, Janel could appreciate the world she was born into. Tzu Chi volunteers en route to Cabanatuan City for the monthly relief distribution on September 16 were delighted to see her following moving objects with ease. She wears protective spectacles in the absence of fresh lenses, as doctors are worried that her eyes may simply reject them. She’ll be implanted new lenses once she reaches five or six years old.

“We’re grateful to Tzu Chi Foundation. I’m glad that Dr. Macaraig told us to go there. They’ve been a big help to us,” Julie Ann says.

For visiting volunteer Esperanza Celon, the experience shows her that there’s a first time for everything. No matter how routine home visits has become for her, she learned of cataracts affecting newborns. It pains her to see those who have just arrived in the living world suffering from a circumstance they never deserve.

“I always go to home visits, but this is the first time encountering a one-month-old baby with cataract. It’s hard for the child because she has no idea that she was born that way. She has no choice in the matter. As a parent myself, I feel sorry for the child for already suffering from cataracts this early,” Celon explains.

It’s no surprise that some might find themselves asking what they can do with limited resources. However, Celon reiterates the dedication of the mother to seek help no matter the distance and difficulty. From this, a chain reaction of love follows.

“As a volunteer and a mother myself, a mother should always strive to seek help for the sake of her child,” she adds.

Distance, while posing challenges of its own, is no factor in determining who deserves to be helped. Just as Janel’s mother went the distance and returned with help, Tzu Chi volunteers should also be heedful of such dedication. Distance is also all the more reason to inspire more people to do good deeds, allowing Great Love’s reach to extend farther and wider.

  • Janel, barely one month old at the time of this photo, sleeps soundly in the midst of a visit by Tzu Chi volunteers on April 29. She would sleep most of the time when she still struggled with her cataracts. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteers cuddle Janel to make her feel comfortable in their arms. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Janel’s mother Julie Ann (foreground) and grandmother Purificacion (background) watch over her as she sleeps. Most of the time, they tend to her needs along with the few relatives living with them. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Julie Ann holds her daughter, fresh from the August 9 surgery. The surgery was done by TIMA ophthalmologist Catherine Macaraig at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】

  • Another batch of Tzu Chi volunteers check up on Janel more than a month after the conclusive surgery. The spectacles she wears protect her eyes from the elements, given that she hasn’t been implanted fresh lenses due to her tender age. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteers Lugena Macaraeg (top) and Luzviminda Tajaran (bottom) play with Janel, now finally being able to see the people to thank for the help she received. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】


  • LAST UPDATED: February 22, 2018 13:02 PM