Chantal Kritzinger, an ocularist in Johannesburg, South Africa, always knew she wanted to go into a helping profession. After completing high school, she pursued studies in psychology and gravitated toward working with adults with special needs until a desire to study further gave way to a new opportunity. This opportunity presented itself by way of a personal need for Chantal—a new artificial eye. Chantal has sight in only one eye as she was born with a microphthalmic eye. When she was in Cape Town, she met an ocularist who would fit her with a new eye, but who both literally and figuratively opened her eyes to new profession as an ocularist. Chantal moved to Cape Town and spent five years learning all she could about being an ocularist. Since that time, the Ocularists Association of Southern Africa (OASA) has worked to set up both a theoretical and practical course to train others to become an ocularist.
Megan Webber, Co-Founder of KnowTheGlow, was touched to hear that Chantal met her husband, Gavin, who is also an ocularist, around the time she was studying to become an ocularist. After five years she moved back to Port Elizabeth and started her own practice. Two years later they were married. Gavin also has an artificial eye as a result of a birthmark that affected his one eye when he was 17 years old. They are the only two ocularists that have the problem of which they do the work. Chantal shared with Megan that it truly gives them an understanding of the trauma that children and parents go through when they are confronted with a sight blinding disease that also robs the child of an eye. They are in a unique position to have the ultimate empathy for both the child and their patients. They have been married for 20 years and in practice for over 25 years. Surprisingly, Chantal and Gavin are two of only seven OASA registered ocularists in all of South Africa. This limited number of ocularists necessitates their need to travel every 4 to 6 weeks from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and Kimberley. Many people in these rural areas simply do not wish to travel to the big cities so Chantal and Gavin make it their mission to go to them. There have been times when Gavin has traveled to these rural areas and done 20-40 artificial eyes in a day (mostly stock eyes paid for by the government).
Megan asked how they managed during COVID-19 and if their travel was halted. Chantal said that they were not allowed to work for a period of two months at the beginning of the lockdown.Thereafter they received special permission to travel during the lockdown and were able to see their patients and continue their work uninterrupted. Chantal explained to Megan that she tries to find a way to create custom artificial eyes for each child. They make impressions of the eye socket; hand paint the iris to match and do the scleral coloring. In Port Elizabeth, a patient may wait up to a year to get a stock eye and while a stock eye could possibly be customized, it is not ideal. Chantal would rather take the impression and fit a proper eye for these children free of charge. There are simply no funds available and the necessary immediate medical attention that is required in the case of retinoblastoma is not only limited but if left untreated the cancer may even spread to the other eye. Chantal admits that she and Gavin pay for the services of many children out of their own pocket. Their main concern is that these children have the best possible results at the end of the day after having experienced so much trauma.
As a Director for the Ocularists Association of Southern Africa, Chantal continues to spread awareness of the profession and of the latest methods that would best serve her patients. They bring ocularists from around the world together for an annual congress and raise awareness. In most instances in South Africa, the needs at many of the hospitals are so great that artificial eyes are too far down on the list to get the financial help and attention they require. KnowTheGlow is proud to shine a light on the selfless work that Chantal and her husband do for those in need of artificial eyes in South Africa.