There is no smile quite like the one that is returned from eyes that once more can see Sophie Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex has spoken for the first time about how her daughter Louise’s sight problems inspired her to campaign for the blind and visually impaired.
In an extraordinarily candid interview, Sophie shared her joy at 11-year-old Louise finally being able to see properly after having being born with what she described as a “profound” squint.
She is now raising support for people across the world with eye problems, explaining: “There is no smile quite like the one that is returned from eyes that once more can see.”
Lady Louise’s condition, strabismus, was a result of her premature birth in 2003. She was born by emergency caesarian section weighing 4lb 9oz. Sophie, who lost so much blood that she nearly died, delivered her daughter so fast that Prince Edward could not get there in time.
Sophie explained: “Premature babies can often have squints because the eyes are the last thing in the baby package to really be finalised. Her squint was quite profound when she was tiny and it takes time to correct it. You’ve got to make sure one eye doesn’t become more dominant than the other but she’s fine now – her eyesight is perfect.”
Keen to set the record straight after years of misreporting of Louise’s condition, Sophie, 50, said: “Louise was born with a squint. People have called it exotropia. It wasn’t ever exotropia – that has been incorrect.”
A squint causes blurred or double vision. Left untreated amblyopia or “lazy eye” can develop, where the brain starts to ignore signals coming from the eye with the squint completely.
Although the Countess did not say if Louise had surgery, she confirmed she “had the squint corrected because cosmetically it was awkward for her”.
Treatments for squints include corrective glasses, eye exercises, Botox injections into the eye muscles and surgery to improve alignment of the eye.
Sophie, who married Edward in 1999, and has another child, seven-year-old James, shared her personal experiences during a four-day visit to Qatar with blindness prevention charity Orbis UK to mark World Sight Day last Thursday.
She admitted that Louise’s experience had motivated her to become patron of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and a global ambassador for Vision 2020, a worldwide initiative aiming to eliminate avoidable blindness over the next five years.
During the trip to Doha, she gave two poignant self-penned speeches about the 39 million people in the world today who are blind despite 80 per cent of their conditions being preventable.
Over the past 12 years, the Countess has visited a number of different projects helping the blind and visually impaired in Tanzania, Bangladesh and Calcutta in India. “I have seen sight being restored and I can promise you there are few things more rewarding in this world that seeing someone step from the dark into the light,” she told a gala dinner last Wednesday night in aid of Seeing Is Believing, a campaign launched by Standard Chartered Bank in 2003.
It has raised more than £60million to fund 3.4 million cataract operations, train more than 173,306 health workers and distribute 776,200 pairs of glasses in developing countries.
Throughout the trip, Sophie met with members of the wealthy Qatari ruling family, including the Father Emir’s glamorous wife Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned in a bid to encourage them to support Orbis projects.
The visit, which comes after two years of relationship-building in the Arabian state, resulted in £5million being invested in the charity. The Countess said she had learned from her in-laws the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh the value of “listening” during such high-profile visits.
She said: “I can’t shy away from it, I do have to be the front woman. It’s about confidence though, as well – they don’t see the jelly legs underneath.”
Sophie said she didn’t feel the need to be in the limelight although she emphasised: “I do have opinions!”
Speaking after the Queen, 89, became Britain’s longest reigning monarch last month, with 94-year-old Prince Philip by her side, Sophie added: “What I find so fascinating about them is that they’ve never stopped learning. Their knowledge base is extraordinary.
“My father-in-law never stops reading, he’s always learning something new and engaging in new challenges – whether its history or whatever, he’s always learning new things.
“Watching the Queen in certain situations – she’s a great listener. she clearly has a great desire to learn all the time and I think that’s amazing.”