Post date: 
Thursday, 13 July 2017
Picture of Lady Rabia

Lady Rabia Abdul-Hakim shares her inspiring story overcoming the issues surrounding her sight loss. 

As a child I suffered from reoccurring eye infections and terrible headaches. At nine years old, I received my first pair of glasses, but the eye infections and headaches continued. By the time I was fifteen years old, my vision had worsened and I was given thick glasses for near-sightedness, which I never wore because they didn't seem to correct my vision. Poor vision had become my norm, so I didn’t realize just how devastating my situation was until 1998.

I was 25 years old then, driving down the highway with my three young children in the van, when I realized that I could barely see the traffic lights. Scared, I made a detour to the local optometrist with my six-year-old son, Mohammad, guiding me through the traffic lights.

That’s when I learned that I had a progressive eye disease called keratoconus, and that it was already quite advanced and glasses would not correct my vision. The optometrist insisted that hard contact lenses were my best option and that without them; I would not lead a normal life. I was shocked.
Unfortunately, they were unable to fit the lenses in the US and it was not until three years later, in 2001, when I moved to Saudi Arabia that doctors at King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital successfully fitted me with contact lenses. It was one of the best days of my life. Everything looked crisp – like HD TV. It was the first time I had seen my children clearly and I stared at them in awe.
In 2007, scarring on my cornea forced me to use the "piggybacking system" - wearing two lenses in each eye – soft lenses placed beneath the hard lenses for comfort. Though I had infections on and off after that, my vision seemed to have stabilised, so I got on with my life – I became an author and illustrator, I had more children, I got divorced, I became homeless, my children were swept off and hidden in another foreign country, I rescued them and fled back to the Caymans… my life basically became a made-for-TV-drama and I endured constant eye pain as it played out.
In 2014, after an especially severe infection, my ophthalmologist in the Cayman Islands suggested I seek treatment overseas. So, in the summer of that year, I packed up all six children yet again and moved to the UK to start my business and hopefully get the constant infections resolved. But by 2015, after more infections and new lenses fittings, it was determined that I had become intolerant to contact lenses.

The days literally were a blur after that - a blur of doctor visits, a blur of lost dreams, a blur of my children’s faces whom I could no longer recognise. I felt completely alone because no one around me could understand what I was going through.

Finally, I mustered up the courage to call RNIB and they provided me with a counsellor named Vikki, who called me once a week. Vikki was truly a godsend. We discussed everything from the emotional trauma of sight loss to safety. She encouraged me to get a cane and she grounded me by telling me her story. She knew exactly what I was going through because she had also worn painful contact lenses before she had to have her eyes removed.
Vikki validated my distress. She gave me permission to just be human. She allowed me to feel scared of things I heard but could not see, she understood things like how terrifying boarding the train could be and she allowed me to be concerned about the future. In short, she allowed me to accept that it was OK to not be OK. But Vikki also assured me that neither my cane, nor my visual impairment meant that I was weak. And that in many ways, accepting my current situation (cane and all) would empower me.
In June 2016, the specialist at Moorfields Eye Hospital determined that I needed cornea transplants in both eyes and in September, I received my first cornea transplant. There is still a long journey ahead as I fight to save my sight, but I am grateful for the support of RNIB and people like Vikki, whose empathy and encouragement had such a profound impact on my life.
Today, I am determined to use this experience to inspire and transform the lives of others.