Israeli ophthalmologist sheds light into life of blind Czech girl

JERUSALEM — Eleven-year-old Yena Zalmal and her father cried when Professor David Ben-Ezra removed her bandages last week after 21/2 hours of surgery on her eye. Blind from the age of two, the Czech girl could suddenly see.

"I am very experienced, and one gets used to things," noted Ben-Ezra, a senior ophthalmological surgeon at Hadassah-University Hospital in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem.

"But when she looked at papers on my desk and said: `Now I'll be able to go to a regular school and read and write,' I myself broke down in tears."

Yena, a Prague dentist's only daughter, developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a toddler. Among the complications were severe inflammation inside the eye, cataracts and increased intra-ocular pressure. One eye became completely useless, while the other was able to distinguish only between light and dark. Three years ago, she became completely sightless.

Her doctor in Prague had attended a medical conference in Japan at which Ben-Ezra delivered a paper on his ophthalmological surgery.

"Over the past 18 years, our department has developed excellent techniques to deal with eye problems," Ben-Ezra said.

The Czech physician faxed Ben-Ezra in Jerusalem and asked him to consider the case, after doctors in hospitals around the world said it was hopeless. The Jerusalem ophthalmologist agreed to see Yena last May and offered some hope.

She and her father returned to Jerusalem on Sunday of last week for an examination and surgery.

"I had to remove all the inflamed tissue and the damaged lens and insert an artificial lens. It was very complicated," said Ben-Ezra, who was able to communicate with the family with the help of a Czech-born pensioner from Hadassah's nursing school. "If we had seen her as a small child, I'm quite sure we could have saved her other eye," he added.

Yena saw an elephant and zebras for the first time at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo Thursday of last week. She and her father will return home next week.