The Heart-Warming Story of Baby John Jelo

Being born blind in both eyes with bilateral congenital cataract is a relatively rare phenomenon, occurring in 1 of every 2,000 live births. Yet this was the sad fate of 5-month old Baby John Jelo Zapanta, who was born to an unemployed teenage couple living in poverty. The infant’s father, Marcelino, also suffers from partial blindness. Support for Baby John Jelo and his parents, comes from his Grandmother, Aling Fe, who earns One Hundred Pesos (P100.00) daily as a food vendor who supports five other children, Marcelino’s siblings, on this income.

The circumstances of Baby John Jelo’s birth and the conditions of his young life present an eloquent picture of the hopelessness that characterizes the state of lifelong poverty to which many of the Philippine’s young people are doomed, often for life. But by a stroke of good fortune, RSI partners OFPHIL (Ophthalmological Foundation of the Philippines) and the Asian Eye Institute (AEI) came into Baby John Jelo’s life, bringing a ray of light to his blindness and a ray of hope to his family.

Baby John Jelo was one of the 100 indigent patients enlisted for surgery by the City of Manila- OFPHIL Eye Care Center at the GAT Andres Bonificio Memorial Medical Center (GABMMC), a charity hospital in the underserved district of Tondo. Dr. Ma. Dolores Luna, GABMMC’s Medical Director, brought the infant to AEI where he was immediately scheduled for surgery on Septembre 9, 2002. AEI’s team of doctors operated on Baby John Jelo for 3 1/2 hours. Manila Mayor Lito Atienza put on surgical cap and gown to witness the procedure. The operation was a medical success and the cataracts blocking Baby Jelo’s sight were successfully removed. Moreover, AEI made a decision to “adopt” Baby John Jalo and pledged to monitor the infant’s progress, providing any necessary eye treatment until the infant matures into adulthood.

“We had approached so many hospitals to ask for help,” began Mrs. Locife Zapanta-Fraga, Baby John Jelo’s doting grandmother, unable to contain tears of joy ever since her blind grandson received the gift of sight following successful the eye operation. “Everyone… from Dr. Tolentino to Dr. Veloso to the staff – gave Jelo top priority!” Mrs. Fraga continued, awed by the kind attention showered upon Baby John Jelo who by then had become AEI’s favorite patient. After the surgery the staff attended to all his follow-up examinations and pharmaceutical needs, putting up the money needed to buy him a special pair of eyeglasses, which cost as much as his grandmother’s monthly salary as a laundrywoman.

AEI has been a long-standing partner of OFPHIL and Restoring Sight International (RSI) and upon its partners’ request serves indigent patients especially children who require general anesthesia.