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Eye surgeries lift a family’s curse

July 13, 2016 | Jonas Trinidad

From left to right: Nerissa Padilla, Rico’s wife; former cataract patient Rico Padilla; former cataract patient Jerry Padilla; and Gladys Agrava, caretaker for Jerry’s daughter Lhian Shane. Siblings Rico and Jerry smile with confidence after receiving a lot of help from Tzu Chi Foundation, from the two cataract operations on June 23 and July 7 to the cash assistance to compensate for their inability to work due to the cataract. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • An entire generation of the Padilla family found itself at the receiving end of a cataract passed down from those before it. Siblings Rico and Jerry, as well as their respective children Rainier Brix and Lhian Shane, struggle to live in the big city, barely able to see everything around them.

  • Tzu Chi Foundation paved the way for their operations on three separate dates under the care of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) volunteer-doctors. A fourth date will be announced at a later time.


Siblings Rico and Jerry Padilla only have their soothing hands as their means of making a living. From their hometown of Caramoan in Camarines Sur, they migrated to Metro Manila in hopes of a better life. For the next several decades, they settled and raised their own families through massage services.

Rico, 38, settles in Antipolo, Rizal and raises 7-year-old Rainier Brix. Jerry, 40, lives in Barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City and raises 7-year-old Lhian Shane. They carry their hopes and dreams, but they also carry a curse passed down across generations of the Padilla clan.

The four were afflicted with cataract in both eyes. It compromised Rico and Jerry’s livelihood and hampered Rainier and Lhian’s education. It also changed their lives, with the fathers unable to make the most out of the only livelihood they know and their children falling victim to prejudice to the point of enrolling them into Special Education (SPED) schools.

“[Rico] is the only one making a living for the whole family. I also feel helpless for my son as he struggles in school because of his cataract.  That’s why I’m praying that they finally undergo surgery,” says Rico’s wife, Nerissa.

Under the care of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) ophthalmologist Antonio Say, Rico and Jerry’s eyes were finally devoid of cataract in two separate operations: June 14 for the left eye and July 7 for the right eye.

On another front, TIMA ophthalmologist Catherine Macaraig restored vision to their respective children, Rainier Brix and Lhian Shane, also in two separate operations: July 18 for the right eye. The operation for the left eye is scheduled for a later date.  

After years in the dark, these two families are on their way to regain the lives they almost lost.

“I want to thank Tzu Chi Foundation for their help. I didn’t think that I would ever see again, but thanks to them my vision cleared and I could finally help my family,” Rico says.

“Thank you very much, Tzu Chi Foundation. I hope you don’t grow tired of helping people like us. There are other members of our family who are also suffering from cataracts, an entire generation of us. There are many among us who want to undergo surgery,” Jerry says.

Moving to Manila

In the aftermath of Typhoon Rosing (Angela) in 1995, Jerry decided to move to Metro Manila. His mother had fallen ill and must be taken to a better-equipped hospital in the metro. While she passed away eventually, it only served as a stepping stone for Jerry to make good in the big city. At the behest of his mother’s friend, Jerry underwent massage training.

“I was the first to learn massage among us siblings,” Jerry says.

Jerry, then, invited his siblings to move into the big city to build better lives. However, at this point, they were already scattered across Luzon, if not the country. In fact, of the siblings he encouraged to have their eyes checked by TIMA doctors, only Rico from Antipolo appeared.

On a good day, the brothers each make Php 500 offering massages to the general public. They had looked ahead beforehand. Should they be prohibited from their livelihood after cataract surgery to recover, where else would they make their money? In fact, they had their doubts at first, with Jerry initially opting out of Tzu Chi’s offer for his daughter.

“If not for a friend who told me that someone was helping out cataract patients, I wouldn’t be obliged to undergo surgery. It’s difficult, as you don’t get paid if you don’t go to work,” Rico says.

Tzu Chi arranged for Rico and Jerry to receive monthly assistance until they fully recover from the surgery. During the Charity Day event on August 7 at Jing Si (Still Thoughts) Hall, volunteers turned over the envelopes of cash to the grateful brothers. They no longer just have to feel the fine texture of money. They could also now see it.

Generation at risk

Dr. Macaraig states that the cataract has a big chance of recurring among future generations of the Padilla family, as the mutation is already in the genes. Rainier and Lhian’s children, if any, might be born with cataracts in the future. Early screening, in this case, would help doctors take action before it’s too late.

“We haven’t studied the whole family yet to know how big the penetrants are, so definitely all of their offspring should be studied. Early diagnosis is important for better prognosis in vision,” she explains.

Dr. Macaraig also states the development of lazy eye as another reason. Children’s eyes must be rehabilitated after surgery to help restore normal vision, unlike in adults that the eyes are able to adjust on their own after surgery. Otherwise, Rainier and Lhian may not be able to see clearly, even with their cataracts gone.

“In this learning period of zero to nine years, the child should see clearly from each eye,” Maracaig adds.

Does this mean Rico and Jerry’s grandchildren, if any, would be squinting while reading a book or sitting too close to the TV? Only time can tell but hopefully it doesn’t have to come to that. As Lhian’s caretaker, 25-year-old Gladys Agrava has seen her fair share of Lhian struggling with her cataract.

“When she was still really young, whenever she plays but drops small parts of her toy, she breaks into tears instead of going to look for them. She has a hard time looking for small things such as coins. When she drops them, she doesn’t make an effort to look for them,” says Agrava.

Fortunately, the Padilla clan lives in a world where cataracts can be treated easily. Even if their children’s children carry the impairment across generations, cataract treatment will be one step ahead, at least. With organizations like Tzu Chi to provide access to such treatment, clear eyesight can be enjoyed by all walks of life.

“I’m thankful that his eyes have become somewhat clearer now. It would really help him in school. He can finally see what he writes down,” says Nerissa after Rainier’s operation.

“She won’t have a hard time at school anymore. Hopefully, she won’t get lazy in reading and writing now,” says Agrava after Lhian’s operation.

  • Both Rico and Jerry make a living offering massages to crowds all over Metro Manila. While they sometimes practice in spas, they often set up shop where masses of tired people converge such as outside government offices. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Since inheriting the cataract, however, both Rico and Jerry are unable to massage properly. Massaging is their only source of income, earning them Php500 on a good day for each of the two. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The brothers’ first operation happened on June 14 at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) in San Juan City. Here, TIMA ophthalmologist Dr. Antonio Say tests Jerry’s cleared eyesight by putting up his fingers. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Both Rico and Jerry underwent two cataract surgeries on June 14 and July 7 at the CSMC, both managed by Dr. Say and his team. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Jerry and Gladys show their gratitude to Tzu Chi following the June 14 operation. After the July 7 operation, both Rico and Jerry returned to offering massage services. Jerry lives at Barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Rico’s house in Barangay Bagong Nayon in Antipolo, Rizal passes through this elevated riverbank. A person who can barely see walking along this route is at risk of falling several feet into shallow water, if not solid ground. With his cataract gone, Rico can safely walk to and from his home. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Rico’s seven-year-old son, Rainier Brix, plays a game on his mother’s mobile phone from an ill-advised distance. The cataract he inherited from his father forced him to do his activities at such distances, which add to the risk of becoming blind. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Rainier Brix studies at a Special Education (SPED) school due to his cataracts. He struggles to read his books and notes up close, often squinting. According to TIMA ophthalmologist Dr. Catherine Macaraig, if not taken care of as soon as possible, he and his cousin Lhian Shane are at risk of developing cross eyes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Jerry’s seven-year-old daughter, Lhian Shane, just came back from SPED school. She gets a hug from her father, both suffering from cataracts. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Like her cousin Rainier, Lhian struggles to read her textbook, even with Gladys’s help. On July 18, both children underwent cataract operation under the care of Dr. Macaraig. The last operation’s schedule will be announced at a later time. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】


  • 20161015 Eye surgeries lift a family’s curse Padilla brothers

  • LAST UPDATED: September 21, 2018 10:09 AM