Monalisa

Early cataract led to business opportunity for local woman

At the age of just 39 years, a Harrogate mum was shocked to be diagnosed with early cataracts, but the operation led to a surprise outcome – as she identified a new business opportunity.

Monalisa Fathima had been suffering with severe glare on sunny days and when looking at bright lights, to the extent that she did not feel safe to drive and was relying on friends and taxis.  A consultation with her local optician led to a diagnosis of cataract, a condition often associated with older generations.

At just 39, she was surprised at the diagnosis and says her vision worsened hugely in the past 12 months.  She explains: “I always considered myself to have excellent vision, and when it started to deteriorate I thought it was because I spend a lot of time staring into a screen as a full time student – I had not even considered I would have a cataract.

“It turns out it is hereditary, as my mother had the same. However, back then, she did not want surgery as she was scared and had five children to care for, so she battled on for 15-20 years with poor vision, which just got worse and worse. To the point when in her 50s, we had to introduce who we were when we approached her, she could not see us well enough. She then had cataract surgery and her life was transformed. Of course, she regretted not doing it years before.

“I was determined not to be like her, so as soon as I knew I also had cataracts, even though I am only in my 30s, I booked in for surgery.  I saw how bad her vision was and that the op fixed it, there was no way I was going to wait! Instantly the glare has gone, it is fantastic. And colours are now screaming out at me, paintings and things I have had for years are all so much sharper”

Part of the post-op advice given to Monalisa for the days and weeks following surgery on both her eyes, was to avoid unnecessary bending– in order to not put extra pressure on the recovering eye.  She says she felt this stop her cooking and so she and her son relied on supermarket ready meals for a few weeks – and so she identified a gap in the market.

Monalisa explains: “I have actually just finished studying for a PhD in Education and Childhood, analyzing children’s collaborative learning in the context of cooking practices, but for as long as I can remember I have wanted to work with food and in the food industry as I am really passionate about cooking really tasty and healthy food. After my op, I realized there was a need in the market for some really high quality, gluten-free South Indian ready meals that has not currently being met.  I am so excited by this, I have already sourced premises and am liaising with the council to set up my business – so not only has my surgery at Optegra given me new eyes it has prompted me to decide on my new business, I am so excited!”

Mr. Oliver Backhouse, ophthalmic surgeon at Bradford-based Optegra Eye Hospital Yorkshire, treated Monalisa.  He says “We timed Monalisa’s treatment for early this year when she had completed her studies, and as she knows from her mother’s experience, if you do not treat cataract, the symptoms and vision quality decreases over the years. 

“There is an option to have a monofocal lens, as Monalisa chose, where your distance vision is corrected but you may need reading glasses; or you can choose a multifocal lens where you may not need glasses at all.  Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures in the UK, and technologies have advanced so greatly, it is quick, painless and has fantastic outcomes.”

As well as her recent studies and new business, Monalisa researches and develops content for an immigration blog, enjoys long walks and playing snooker – all much easier and clearer since her surgery.

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