Thursday, Apr 15

Making life her own again

May 22, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

Olive De Mesa (right) and her sister Ofelyn (left) enjoy the sights of Luneta Park two weeks after her successful cataract surgery. Perhaps the cause of her cataract will never be known, but the important thing is that she's able to see again and make her life her own. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Whether caused by a wrong drug or history of diabetes, 26-year-old Olive De Mesa’s mysterious cataract has rendered her unable to live her life. With the help of Tzu Chi’s free eye clinic, her sight was restored after more than a year of tumbling and falling.


The cataract that blinded 26-year-old Olive De Mesa’s right eye is quite a mystery. Doctors and even her family haven’t entirely nailed down the root cause of the cataract. But she claimed the condition manifested itself after she was administered the wrong drug last year. What she first thought was a birth control drug, according to her, turned out to be one for tuberculosis.

Another story by doctors claims that her family’s history of diabetes on the father’s side is responsible for the cataract.

Nevertheless, Olive’s laid-back life in the countryside was never the same since she developed cataract.

From their home province of Oriental Mindoro, she and her younger sister Ofelyn traveled to Manila to seek help. They settled at their brother’s fruit store in the busy markets of Tondo, helping out with the business from time to time. With her cataract, however, Olive can barely make out the figures on the weighing scale or count the number of bananas in a bunch.

And walking isn’t any easier, as Ofelyn narrates. “When it’s hot, [Olive] would pull me and we would both tumble and fall. It’s difficult to travel long distances like this.”

Olive has been like this for more than a year.

After hearing from a neighbor in the province about Tzu Chi’s free eye clinic, the sisters traveled to the Great Love Campus to seek help. Olive was scheduled for cataract surgery on May 8 at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. TIMA volunteer-doctor Bernardita Navarro conducted the surgery.

Then, just before entering the operating room, Olive admits that her troubles go beyond difficulty in walking.

“My husband and siblings all work in my stead, but they’re getting fed up claiming that I was ordering them around. But what can I do? I couldn’t see no matter what I did. I never wanted to have cataracts,” she narrates, weeping.

Indeed, she never asked for any of her misfortunes, from being injected the wrong drug to being helpless. But life gave her these lemons and she’s barely able to make lemonade.

The operation lasted the entire afternoon and well into the evening. Fortunately, the fluid nature of Olive’s cataract made it easier for the machine to siphon the cataract. What followed after the procedure was a favorable response.

“When the cataract was removed, her eyes suddenly began rolling side to side, that’s a very good sign. I prefer it than the eye being unresponsive. The fact that the eye responded means there’s a very good chance that she’ll be able to see again,” explains Navarro.

“When there’s light, there’s hope,” Navarro adds.

Exactly two weeks after the operation, the sisters went for a walk at Luneta Park. The scorching noon heat, once hindering Olive from walking long distances, no longer bothered her. In fact, a few days after the surgery, they even made the trip back to Mindoro to deliver the good news to their family.

“The first three days have been amazing for me. I’m like a child seeing light for the first time. I even read almost every word I came across on my way back home,” Olive says.

Now that her year-long suffering is over, she hopes to land a housekeeping job to support her children back in Mindoro. No longer would she have to stand helpless as other people toil for her sake. She desires to make her life her own.

Even with a small donation, you can help people like Olive get their normal lives back. To know how, visit

  • This fruit store in the busy markets of Tondo, Manila is Olive's home away from home. The De Mesa family hails from Gloria, Oriental Mindoro. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • As with typical cataract patients, Olive needs a guide to be able to travel wherever she needs to go. Her younger sister Ofelyn is the only one she can rely on for such tasks. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • TIMA ophthalmologist Bernardita Navarro stares down the depths of Olive's cataract. The fluid consistency of the cataract, Navarro says, allowed her to extract it with relative ease. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Precious hours later, Olive comes out of the operation free of her year-long cataract. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Two weeks after the operation, Olive is able to help out with her brother's business in Manila. The numbers on this digital weighing scale may still look somewhat blurry, but she can make them out. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • She can also count the number of bananas in a bunch the normal way. In the past, she had to feel for each banana. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • On a clear day, the sisters go for a stroll around Luneta Park. Olive no longer needs her sister to act as a guide. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】