September 2015

"Please, anything but blind!!"

Mum, do I have to go back to hospital now? Not a question a 12-year-old boy usually asks. However, Mattia has become sensitive since his accident. Even in the case of minor injuries picked up during his daily activities, he worries about possible consequences. An arrow not only took his healthy eye away from him, but it also robbed him of his basic trust.

Ist Mattia jetzt blind?

On that Sunday in October, Mattia came rushing into the house with tears in his eyes. "His left eye looked really terrible," Mattia's mother tells us three years later. Susi Turrin has not yet come to terms with what happened to her son, who was nine years old at the time. "It hurts me a lot when I think back on all the ordeals Mattia went through," says Turrin. "Everything was due to an awful mishap."

The awful mishap was a wooden arrow. It landed in Mattia's left eye with full force while he was playing. "It was bloodshot, his iris was hanging out like a cloth and I knew immediately that something terrible had just happened." Turrin took the quickest route from Watt to the Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital Zurich. "Fortunately, Mattia was not in any pain. He was more relaxed than I was." After examining him, the emergency physician said she thought they could sew the damaged iris back in place during a minor surgical procedure. However, the operation was just the start of the trauma suffered by the Turrin family. Why are they taking so long? "Nobody kept us informed. I could hardly bear the uncertainty," recounts Turrin. Finally a message from the operating theatre: "They cannot find the lens." That was all they said. What exactly does that mean? "Please, anything but blind!" is what went through Turrin's mind. Her voice shakes as she tells the story. "I consider the eyes simply too valuable to lose!"

Mattia was transferred to the recovery room after three long hours. He then had to have a CT scan, in order to rule out the possibility of an arrow fragment being lodged in his skull. The result came back negative. "Now everything will be fine," she thought to herself.

Between fear and hope

However, the following morning, the doctors were of a different opinion: "Don't expect too much. We have to hope that the retina remains intact." The following days, weeks and months were the worst time of her life. "This constant fear that the retina would become detached." Four emergency operations had to be performed over a six-month period. After each op, the second-year pupil had to completely refrain any risky activities – no skipping, jumping or sudden head movements; he could sleep only on his back, and eye drops had to be administered every hour. "I virtually had to supervise Mattia," says Turrin, "even at school."

Mother and son both dreaded every weekly examination at the University Hospital. Mattia was scared of needing another operation and unpleasant treatments. Even today, three years later, he panics every time contact is made with his eye. "Do I have to go back to hospital now?" he immediately asks in such situations and in the case of any other physical complaints. "He has lost basic trust in his health," says his mother.

Stop staring at me!

Even with 50% vision, Mattia is a completely normal 12-year-old boy who locks horns with other lads after school and explores his limits, whether on a downhill bike or in ice hockey. He wears special glasses for downhill biking: his "ski goggles" as he likes to call them. He also protects his good eye during his daily activities by wearing glasses with unbreakable lenses. "The glasses are terribly important to me. They give me a sense of security," says Turrin. Mattia currently wears them voluntarily – especially due to the prying eyes. He hates it when people ask him about his black eye. On the other hand, he deals well with his lack of spatial awareness. So, for example, he places the bottleneck up against the edge of the lens, in order not to miss the target. It is perfectly normal for Mattia when the tomato sauce lands next to his plate instead of on the edge of it. "He doesn't even attribute something like that to his blind eye."

Mattia passed second year at that time in spite of the many disruptions to his schooling. Fortunately, the subject material was not new to him, because he was repeating the year. "At least here he had a stroke of good luck," says Turrin. Another positive development for the family was the money they received from the capital insurance Prevea, which they had taken out before Mattia was born. "I strongly recommend that everybody does so, because no matter how careful you are and how many times you warn your child, something can always happen," emphasises Turrin. Thanks to this money, Mattia will in future be able to afford special equipment or eye treatments that are neither covered by disability insurance nor accident insurance. The Turrin family hope researchers will find a cure. "Perhaps one day there will be an artificial retina or another chance offered by a type of new operation. I would travel to the end of the earth for that."

Text: Daniela Schori