Australian Cruising- Losing sight of Paradise

01 Sep 2007

Diary Dates


Losing sight of paradise

Taia's eye condition is treatable if she can get to Australia  BW Media
Sail-World Crusing Editor Nancy Knudsen. heading west from Bora Bora in the South Pacific has just left Palmerston Atoll and is sailing west to Tonga with husband Ted, they expect to arrive there mid-next week. Today Nancy has sent is news of a young 17 year old with a treatable eye condition sending her blind… here is an extract from Nancy’s story..

'Palmerston Atoll, part of the Cook Islands, is situated midway between Tonga to the west and Bora Bora to the east – about six hundred miles in each direction. A freighter comes but once every three or so months and medical help is almost nom existent...

It's only yesterday that we sailed into this atoll in the South Pacific, but already the young woman stands out, impressive, languorously graceful, moving like a young deer, alert intelligent eyes. Her name is Taia. She's seventeen, smart, serious except when she smiles, and then it's a transformation, like a sunrise – warm and golden and lighting up the world around her– but then, bit by bit, the daunting, horrifying truth begins to emerge from small comments dropped in passing. Taia is losing her sight.

So what about Taia? I talk to Jock Marsters, the only nurse on the island – there is no doctor. 'I am quite angry with the doctors and the hospital in Rarotonga' she tells me frankly. 'I told them about Taia's condition more than a year ago when her sight began to fail, and they would not do anything about an operation. Now, there will be no eye surgeons in Rarotonga until next April, April 2008. A quick calculation tells me that's eight months away.

Jock goes on explaining. 'About eighteen months ago, Taia began to have shadows in her 'lazy' eye. Now she has lost all sight in that eye, and her 'good' eye is starting to fail – she can only see out of one corner of that eye.' She shakes her head in sadness, but there's no empowerment here – she accepts that Taia will 'just have to wait' until April next year.

I talk to her parents. 'Yes,' her mother tells me, 'we understand that Taia can have eye surgery, and we are hoping that she will be able to have this next year, and then go to nursing school.

'Last time we went on the freighter to Rarotonga to see the specialists, we waited and waited, but they didn't come to Tonga, so we had to come back here without Taia getting any medical attention. We are now hoping next April...' Taia's mother's voice drifts off, leaving a worried trail across her forehead.

However, since writing this story, Sail-World's Cruising Editor Nancy Knudsen has been able to arrange for a top Sydney eye specialist to treat Taia pro bono. Now all it remains is to raise the two or three thousand dollars or whatever it is for her airfares to and from, and work out how we can quickly as possible get her from the island to Rarotonga where she can catch an aeroplane. (freighter? yacht? Australian Navy?) to Australia for treatment.

She has a grandfather in Armidale, where she can stay during any necessary recovery period.

If you feel you might be able to help Taia, please read Nancy's full story and please email Nancy at cruisingeditor(at) When Nancy reaches Tonga (mid-week) she will respond.

By Sail-World Cruising

Taia - Losing sight of Paradise
By Nancy Knudsen,
It's only yesterday that we sailed into this atoll in the South Pacific, but already the young woman stands out, impressive, languorously graceful, moving like a young deer, alert intelligent eyes. Her name is Taia. She's seventeen, smart, serious except when she smiles, and then it's a transformation, like a sunrise – warm and golden and lighting up the world around her– but then, bit by bit, the daunting, horrifying truth begins to emerge from small comments dropped in passing. She is going blind.... [more]

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