As a sixteen year old Tsebo Lephoto was a typical high scholar who enjoyed sitting at the back of the class with his friends. But one day he realised he could not see what was written on the board. He went to the bathroom and washed his eyes. When he got back to class, he still couldn’t see clearly.
For weeks, he copied his notes from friends refusing to believe that anything was wrong with his sight. For years Lephoto wore glasses but they did not help. His eyesight kept deteriorating and optometrists kept giving him stronger glasses.
It was five years later when Lephoto was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a rare disease which leads to the quick deterioration of one’s vision. Lephoto was told in some cases the disease it could lead to blindness.
Dr Murray Hofmeyr, National Director of Studietrust said: “We had always funded disabled students but we received so few applications. So we went to the disability unit at Wits which is how we got Tsebo.”
Hofmeyr said when they started working with Lephoto he was at a very difficult point in his life.
“He was at a point where his eyes were deteriorating and he had started looking into whether he would have to start learning Braille.”
Hofmeyr said the bursary did not cover medical issues as it was solely for educational purposes but they were intent on finding a solution for Lephoto.
“I spoke to someone at FNB who helped Tsebo make contact with Dr Mark Deist, an eye specialist.”
Deist is the founding member of the Sandhurst Eye Centre, Johannesburg Excimer Laser Centre and the Laser Vision Laboratory.
Lephoto said once he started working with Deist they were able to help him get special contact lenses which he has been wearing to improve his eyesight since 2011. Without his contacts, Lephoto can only see silhouettes of people.
With his contact lenses however, his eyesight is improved like that of a short sighted person who wears glasses. Although this is so, he still needs to relax his muscles every so often as bright light strains his muscles.
“This is a rare disability. My contacts are straight from overseas they are not manufactured here. So it costs a lot. I have to buy eye drops and all those things might cost about R3000 a month.”
He does not have medical aid and his parents could not cover all the costs for his treatment. He therefore started small businesses and investments while in residence at Barnato.
“I had a little tuckshop and I also had small investments (in a friend’s construction company) and other business connections.”
Lephoto still invests and is currently saving money to have surgery so he does not go blind and can have normal vision.
Hofmeyr said Lephoto would need a retina transplant which could cost up to R80 000. Lephoto said his doctor had offered to pay for half of the surgery.
Lephoto dreams of starting an investment holdings company and a school for children who are disadvantaged and have potential to do well academically.
“You get kids out there who are really smart but because they do not have the financial means to develop their education so they end up becoming nothing. So I just want to make a lot of money and have a school for children like that so that they can also become something, whatever they want to be.”
Hofmeyr said he was very proud of what Lephoto had achieved and hoped that he would make enough money to get his surgery.