Leidy woke up blind one morning in 2011. Francia could not see it anymore. Deprived of sight, these women have developed another meaning: the touch through which today in Colombia they detect breast cancer.
Leidy Garcia and Francia Papamija are two of five blind or partially sighted people trained in Cali (western Colombia) to prevent breast cancer, the most prevalent in the country with 7,000 new cases each year and 2,500 deaths. Both blind, they followed in 2015 the method of the German physician Frank Hoffmann (video link below).
For the last ten years, he has argued that blind people have the ability to detect nodules – clumps of cells – which are often the first symptom of the disease. “People with visual impairments have an increased sensitivity, a sense of touch developed that allows them to better distinguish the elements” allowing a diagnosis, told AFP surgeon Luis Alberto Olave, coordinator of the program “Hands that save lives ” from San Juan de Dios Hospital to Cali. Some 71,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year worldwide. Dr. Hoffmann’s method, applied in Germany and Austria, reached Colombia with the support of the Latin American Development Bank (CAF).
Five women aged 25 to 35, including one Mexican, were selected. They should not have any vascular or neurological problems that could alter their sensitivity. Then they were trained as auxiliaries of tactile examinations. Since then, they have received more than 900 patients. “We are fighting a prejudice that because we have a disability we can not think or be autonomous,” said Francia, 35, who lost her sight following a retinal detachment at the age of seven. Cali hospital officials realized that the exams performed by these women gave “better” results than those following the usual procedure. “The clinical exam they perform is more elaborate, lasts longer, which gives patients a feeling of comfort they did not have with a traditional doctor , ” Dr. Olave added. While a self-examining woman can detect 15-20mm nodules and a 10mm doctor, blind aids detect smaller, 8mm nodules.
A 45-minute examination
Leidy almost totally lost sight six years ago. Her career as a topography engineer stopped overnight due to a cerebral thrombosis that blinded her left eye and severely impaired her right. “People who see well are guided by what they see, I am guided by touch and hearing,” says the 26-year-old brunette. Leidy palpates the breasts of his patients by guiding with a yellow and red ribbon, which has a raised pattern every centimeter to locate the possible nodules. When she detects a suspicious mass, she reports it to the doctor who, depending on the case, can order additional tests to confirm whether or not cancer is present. The initial examination lasts up to 45 minutes against 10 for the traditional method. Francia as Leidy say that patients are sometimes curious, others suspicious. Some do not even speak to them, others tell them their lives.
Source of jobs
“Their touch is so precise.In fact, I’m amazed because they show great professionalism,” said one of them, a 42-year-old shopkeeper. “They found something, but the doctor said it was only an inflamed ganglion , ” says the mother of two. Before being trained in this method of diagnosis, Francia and Leidy were out of work, as 62% of the 500,000 people with visual impairment in Colombia, seven times more than the average population in this country of 48 million inhabitants. , according to the National Institute of the Blind. Dr. Olave believes that it is a source of employment for the visually impaired and he hopes to start a new training in the first quarter of 2018. “In developing countries, whose access to diagnostic technologies is sometimes limited” , the manual examination “is very important,” he explains. His two assistants, for their part, intend to demonstrate that they can save lives and that it is society that treats them as invalids. Francia emphasizes that she wants to live “as a normal person” and express it with both fine and saving hands.