My journey to better eyesight and a life without glasses or contact lenses
Miss Namibia 2016 Lizelle Esterhuizen Nel talks about her difficult journey with glasses and contact lenses and, finally, how eye surgery at Olympia Eye & Laser Centre turned her life around.
A teacher by profession – with a Masters in Maths Education – 26-year-old Lizelle Esterhuizen Nel was crowned both Miss Namibia and Miss Universe Namibia in 2016. For her, the best aspect of the titles was the opportunity to be a great role model - as a true Namibian woman - for other women.
Lizelle was in Grade 1, when she first had to wear glasses. She remembers them very clearly, “They were little round ones, with a green frame. I thought it was pretty ‘cool’ to have glasses until the realisation hit that it was now a permanent thing. That’s when I began to feel anxious and uncertain about wearing glasses, and I became very self-conscious about the way I looked.”
Constant struggle with poor eyesight
Not only did Lizelle become self-conscious, but poor eyesight affected her in so many practical ways: “I’m very sporty, and the fact that I couldn’t see meant I couldn’t pursue what I loved doing! I had to remove my glasses when playing netball or doing high or long jump. Swimming, too, was a problem, because I can’t see without the glasses and when I wore them, they were constantly wet so I couldn’t see well either.”
So many things that others with good sight take for granted, Lizelle couldn’t do: “Things like number plates and names on buildings were always a struggle – I had to get closer to see what was written. It was frustrating, but more than that, I became slightly paranoid because I was so defenceless without my glasses. I always felt that if I got into a difficult situation, and wasn’t wearing my glasses, I wouldn’t be able to see to find them!”
Not only that, but increasingly, Lizelle felt unattractive: “I just didn’t like the way I looked with glasses.” In 2007, she considered herself fortunate to get contact lenses. That changed things for her, but only for a while. After a few years of wearing them, she began to feel a dry, itchy, very uncomfortable feeling in her eyes. After investigating, it turned out the contact lenses were creating little blisters or bumps on the inside of her eyelids, so every three months, she had to take a break from them for three months: “My eyes just didn’t want the lenses, yet I kept them in. It was a constant struggle between having severe dry eyes, irritation, and redness. My eyes also became noticeably light sensitive.”
Living in Namibia too, where dryness is a constant, makes it so much tougher.
To add to the complication, Lizelle’s prescription, too, was a complicated one, so visits to the optometrist were a struggle; so was finding the lenses best suited to her eyes. She battled constantly. And then Lizelle heard about laser treatment.
Could refractive eye surgery be an option?
“It was in 2018, that my optometrist suggested I consider eye refractive surgery. My eyes started to stabilise and the lenses no longer worked for me. I’d heard about Olympia Eye & Laser Centre, but I was certain it would be completely unaffordable – I constantly reminded myself that I hadn’t any choice, I just needed to cope with my eyes as they were.” In 2022, Lizelle married Freddie Nel: “I had reached the point where I couldn’t stand waking up unable to see. The final straw was when my brother was attacked in his house – this fear of something similar happening to me and not being able to see was the catalyst for making that phone call. Freddie and I decided it was time to make an appointment, and find out more about eye refractive surgery.”
This was a pivotal moment in Lizelle’s life. Not only because of the treatment, but her journey to success at Olympia Eye & Laser Centre was such a good one: “My whole experience with the Centre was memorable – I instantly knew I was in the hands of consummate professionals, and that gave me so much confidence. Anything I was concerned about, the staff answered with kindness and compassion, and my anxiety subsided dramatically.”
“Dr. Joffe is the humblest person I’ve ever met. What also made such a difference was that he had such faith in the people who work for him. He assured me repeatedly that he would test my eyes until he was satisfied he could provide me with good vision after the surgery. Once all the tests were over, he assured me I was the perfect candidate for this type of surgery – he put my mind at rest, and I was ready for the procedure.”
From surgery to seeing clearly
Lizelle was naturally slightly anxious on the day, particularly about being awake during the procedure: “But from the moment I arrived, their professionalism calmed me… from the receptionists to the nurses to Dr Joffe and Khalo, the ophthalmologist’s assistant.”
The surgery lasted about ten minutes of which 45 seconds per eye was laser: “Immediately after the surgery I was able to see and read the time out loud - 12:55 - I won’t ever forget that time! They again tested my eyes, and I was on 75% and 95% vision on either eye,” says Lizelle.
From there, Lizelle says, everything went according to plan. Home with her medicine, and although uncomfortable, she slept well. Khalo had warned her about the discomfort in the first days, so it wasn’t frightening. Within 48 hours, she was able to cook and function well. On the Thursday, she had her follow-up appointment: They removed the contact lenses that were used as a bandage to aid the healing process and from there on, she was functioning 100 percent: “My eyes tested 95% and 100% sight and I could see everything perfectly,” she said. Talk about life altering!
Lizelle says her vision has improved to the extent she can see detail on her curtain fabrics at home, something she would never have been able to do: “Opening your eyes in the morning, and being able to see is the best gift anyone can give you. My paranoia has calmed down totally as I now see everything around me. Have you any idea how clear the stars in the night sky are? I do. I can now get on with life without having to struggle with irritated eyes – it's a gift I can’t describe.”
For Lizelle, Olympia Eye & Laser Centre changed her life. No doubt about it: “To the team at Olympia, you are simply the best in the business. Without a doubt, I recommend the Olympia Eye & Laser Centre to anyone going through the struggles I did. It is absolutely worth it!”
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