Judith’s Journey for Abel
Megan Webber from KnowTheGlow recently had the privilege of meeting the unstoppable Judith Mollel, mother of brave and resilient Abelardo from Tanzania. Judith shared her remarkable journey with her son—one that not only traveled the country’s length but extended all the way to India. Having completed their journey’s treatment phase, Judith and Abel have become examples of hope for other parents and symbols of strength in the region.
Abel, now four, began showing a peculiar flash of light in his left eye at just two months old—an observation noticed mo
st often by his mother, Judith, in the morning light. Despite others struggling to see what she described, she found her way to a Tanzanian hospital when Abel was nine months old.
The journey began when the initial hospital raised concerns about Abel’s eye, hinting at the possibility of a tumor. This led quickly to a referral to Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania, where a thorough examination took place with detailed measurements, ultrasound scans, and MRI tests. While this is where the term Retinoblastoma first entered her awareness, the challenge of confirming whether Abel had Coats Disease or Retinoblastoma persisted due to the inability to observe the retina directly. Despite this, there was confirmation of Abel’s lack of vision in the left eye, which caught Judith off guard when Abel was just 11 months old.
The hospital showed Judith various techniques to help her view Abel’s response when his unaffected eye was covered. As predicted, Abel showed discomfort when his unaffected right eye was covered, as he squirmed, and his left eye seemed uninterested in tracking objects. The overwhelming sight of numerous children undergoing surgeries, some returning with only one or no eyes, added to the emotional weight of the moment.
In pursuit of further insights, Jusidy turned to KCMC Hospital for treatment. Despite their valuable input, the definitive confirmation of whether Abel had Retinoblastoma or Coats Disease remained a question. Nevertheless, the recommendation for enucleation was again strongly suggested as a precautionary measure.
She went in circles over the options and, with the help of family and friends, gathered support and financial assistance, making it possible for Abel and Judith to travel to India to meet Dr. Himika Gupta. At this point, Abel was now aged two, and Himika revealed that although Coats Disease was highly probable, the advanced stage of disease had claimed all of Abel’s vision, making enucleation the safest course.
Facing financial constraints, Judith reached back to Dr. Andrew Makupa in Tanzania at KCMC, who affirmed his ability to enucleate safely. On May 2nd of 2022, then-three-year-old Abel’s eye was removed. Standing in front of the mirror post-enucleation, saying that he looked different, Judith confidently replied, “You are made different – You are Unique!”
The enucleated eye was sent out for testing, and the official results, confirming Coats Disease, took nearly a year to arrive. By then, Judith had shifted her focus to finding a prosthesis for Abel and to supporting the other families of Tanzania. With only one resource in the country capable of providing a prosthetic eye, Judith coordinated with CCBRT to obtain one. Fortunately, in Tanzania, surgical interventions and prostheses are paid for by the government, so while their availability is scarce, the resource is available free of charge! Abel has been able to adapt and even to change out and care for his prosthesis. Back at school, the collaborative efforts of teachers and classmates played a crucial role in building his confidence and safeguarding his remaining eye.
Having addressed Abel’s immediate needs, attention turned towards other families and the broader community. Starting a foundation in her name, along with an Instagram page, TikTok, and WhatsApp group, Judith envisions significant potential in aligning vision screening education and awareness with community health clinics. She hopes ultimately to address the absence of formal vision screening programs for children and adults in the country.
Sharing their journey through radio interviews and Instagram posts, the recent government approval for her foundation to disseminate information locally and across Tanzania marks a significant milestone. Despite skepticism from some doctors regarding the feasibility of raising awareness, her perspective remains optimistic, and linking up with KnowTheGlow as an Ambassador for Tanzania allows her to continue collaborating in spreading the message of early detection and awareness.
Judith shared with Megan that she has outreach plans to visit patient families at Bugando Hospital in Mwanza and other institutions caring for children who have lost both eyes, and she aims to bring attention to Tanzania’s difficult-to-find but existing resources. Frequently called upon to speak to families hesitant about enucleation, she hopes to help patient families overcome their hesitancy in pursuing what could potentially be life-saving interventions.
A blogger recently contacted Judith for a documentary on her story and the challenges of retinoblastoma in Africa. Her commitment is stronger than ever, and with the opportunity to work alongside KnowTheGlow to extend the message across the nation, she hopes to jointly explore innovative ways to make an impact and a difference for the children and families of Tanzania. We do not doubt that with Judith’s drive and determination, there will be waves of educational awareness information rippling across the nation in no time!