Long ride for a reason

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Makhanda (Grahamstown) farmer Leonie Yendall doesn’t need any persuasion to get on her bicycle and explore South Africa’s back roads and byways. Sharing her pedal-powered journeys on social media, she’s taken friends and family to places many of them have never been, and might never reach.

But her latest journey was extra special. She clocked up her kilometres for a cause, raising R4 752.28 in donations to date for the Raphael Centre and spreading the message of eye care awareness along her more than 1400km trip on the back roads from Upington in the Northern Cape to Makhanda. And that was after hiking the tough and challenging 85km Fish River Canyon.

Yendall daily defies glaucoma, a condition in which increased pressure inside your eyeball damages the optic nerve, causing a gradual loss of sight.

To a gathering of friends and supporters gathered at a local coffee shop to welcome her home on Friday 5 October, Yendall related how she’d discovered the late-onset condition.

“I was sitting next to (husband) Rodney watching TV and I said, ‘You know when I close my right eye I can’t see the TV.’” Yendall’s style is to tackle the most difficult situations with humour.

She wishes she’d known how important it is to regularly have your eyes screened.

WHO has estimated that 4.5 million people are blind due to glaucoma – the second leading cause of blindness and the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. The medical profession doesn’t yet have a way to prevent glaucoma, but loss of vision can be prevented or minimised if the disease is recognised in the early stages. In its most common form, primary open angle glaucoma, the loss of vision is silent, slow, and progressive. A person’s peripheral vision is affected first. As the condition progresses, central vision is lost.

The Eye Clinic at the Youth Hub in Joza offers a free eye screening service, with Raphael Centre staff trained to operate equipment installed there by Dr Davies Optometrists. Retinal scans (photographs of the back of the eye) can reveal high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as HIV infection in certain stages.

These photographs are sent to Dr Trevor Davies and his optometric team, Jan-Louis Fourie and Anche Oosthuizen for further examination. “They let us know who we should refer to the St John Eye Clinic for further assessment,” explains Anne Loeffler, manager at the Raphael Centre. Staff also conduct TB and STI screening as well as HIV counselling and testing.

Established in 1999 to provide support services to people living with HIV, the Centre’s mandate has broadened to incorporate health and wellness services for both HIV positive and negative people.

“No one told us when we were younger that you should get screened for glaucoma regularly,” Yendall said.

There were some days on her journey, Yendall said, when it was too cold for her to ride – not because her body couldn’t withstand it but because extreme temperatures (hot or cold) affect eye pressure.

“My worst day was struggling outside Loxton in a strong wind in a temperature of 6C. I always have the fear that my eyes won’t make it to the end of the day,” she said.

Her best day?

Pushing her bike over the Winterberg in a full-scale storm.

“There was rain, hail and plenty of lightning,” Yendall said. “”That’s when you realise you only live once: what’s happening around you is spectacular – and if you get hit, that’s also going to be spectacular!”

The journey also fulfilled a long-standing promise. Yendall grew up in the Kalahari and when her life there was suddenly uprooted and moved to Port Elizabeth, she told her grandfather she would wallk back home from PE.

“I did it – although in the ot her direction, and with my bike,” she said. And loving husband Rodney, who is 100% supportive of Leonie’s regular adventures in different directions, said, “Oh well, at least this time she’s coming home.”

The fundraising target for Raphael Centre and the valuable community work they do is R20 000. If you’d like to contribute, go to https://www.backabuddy.co.za/raphael-centre

  • Additional source: https://www.glaucoma.org/gleams/what-can-i-do-to-prevent-glaucoma.php
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