by Tony Copple
We know that scripture tells us that we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11). Both of us have had health challenges on the mission field. This isn’t new to missionaries. Hudson Taylor had health issues in China. Heidi Baker, co-founder of our mission movement IrisGlobal (of which we are under the care of both Canada and Western Cape, South Africa) had debilitating MRSA, which was killing her. She overcame when God healed her miraculously. Then Rolland Baker had cerebral malaria and other issues for a number of years. He almost died. But God restored him through excellent medical treatment and prayer. L-A also is returning to health after overcoming aggressive inflammatory breast cancer. Other Iris missionaries have been healed. Others were only healed in heaven. But we all have overcome. Here is Tony’s testimony through his eye issues while also battling TB (tuberculosis). He is also officially, the oldest Iris missionary. We are proud of him, and his commitment to love children, teens and the vulnerable. His huge heart has been well known for a long time, but as a missionary, he is used as a father (and grandfather) to many.
I also have been promised at least twice through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit that my healing is in South Africa. I clung to this promise for issues like osteo-arthritis and mobility issues. Later I developed HS and inflammatory breast cancer, which also brought lymphedema. However God healed me of cancer and is working on the rest. I know that Tony’s healing is ALSO included in this promise. We have been kept in South Africa for our healing. We have usually been helped so quickly, and with such love, that there is no comparison between public care in Canada and private care in South Africa in a Christian atmosphere. (Laurie-Ann)
Medical history of my eyes
1n 1985 I had a ski-ing accident in Scotland where I lost several teeth. It is possible my left eye also sustained damage, though there were no obvious symptoms.
In December 2020 I had cataract surgery on both eyes. The right eye came through the surgery well, with better vision than before the surgery. The left eye took twice as long for the operation because the surgeon discovered damage (from the 1985 accident?) and had to make adjustments. Following the surgery the vision in the left eye was always blurred despite two prescription lenses being made.
Detached retina of the left eye.
On 5th April 2021 I noticed a dark vertical band on the right field of view of the left eye. Each day the band increased in width,
On 8th April the band covered half my field of view. I called the cataract surgeon, and he was very concerned, but the earliest he could see me was Mon 12 April at 4 pm.
By 12 April the band covered 90% of my field of view, leaving a small area of peripheral vision on the left extremity. I was essentially blind in that eye. The surgeon told me I had a detached retina. He said he would call Tygerberg Hospital and see if it were possible to have it operated on in the public system, since I have no medical insurance. (My travel insurance only ran till Nov 2020 when I would have returned to Canada, if not for Covid). Next day he emailed to say it was not possible to get surgery in the public hospital system. He recommended I contact a retinal surgeon in the Cape Town area.
13 April we made a list of retinal surgeons from the Internet, which included Dr Norman Nieder-Heitmann and Dr Steve Lapere in Claremont.
15 April we had to go to Paarl for physiotherapy for Laurie-Ann, so while she was being treated I drove to the Paarl Eye Centre and spoke to Dr Norman Nieder-Heitman’s secretary. She thought it unlikely he would be available in the near future, but said she would call me.
Fri 16 April – I called Dr Lapere’s office and made an appointment for a consultation on Tue 20 April, with surgery 21 April. I had to go to my GP Dr Eric Van Dijk’s office for a prescription, but when I told him my eye situation he said he wanted me to see another eye surgeon, Dr T Keulder immediately to confirm the diagnosis of a detached retina. I walked to his nearby office and he examined me and confirmed the detached retina. He said it was extremely urgent to have surgery. I told him I had the appointment with Dr Lapere; however he called Dr Norman Nieder-Heitmann and arranged for me to see him on Monday 19 April. He wrote an introductory note. I asked him what time was the appointment, and he said I could turn up any time and he would fit me in. This sounded odd. When I got home I tried to call Dr Lapere’s office to cancel, and Dr Nieder-Heitmann’s office to confirm a time, but both were gone for the weekend.
Mon 19 April. I called Dr Nieder-Heitmann’s office to be told I had been expected at 8 am. They rebooked me for 10 am tomorrow.
Tue 20 April. Dr Nieder-Heitmann saw me and emphasised how important it was to use all available resources to save an eye, and examined me. The retina was still attached over half its area. The bad news was that these operations sometimes must be repeated – several times – for the desired result – so the cost can multiply. He was not too concerned by the 15 days since the detaching started. He explained the mechanics of the operation, saying gas or oil would be pumped into the eye to flatten the retina against the eye wall. He gave me the quote for his services, and his staff found me the numbers of the Cure Day hospital, and the anaesthetist. With this information I was able to estimate the total cost at around $8,697. My son James video-called from Las Vegas and was very keen on going ahead with the operation; offering his help if funding was an issue.
That evening we had our weekly Zoom prayer meeting with good friends from Hillsong in Somerset West (Cape Town) and they heard the whole story. I started by telling them that from a financial and common wisdom perspective I was ready to accept the permanent blindness in one eye in view of the inability to focus the left eye following cataract surgery, the many risks associated with surgery, and the cost. We had begun to ask our supporters for funding and already about $2,500 had come in, which I would return if we didn’t go ahead with the operation. Naomi and her husband Faan led us in some concerted prayer, and were adamant that we proceed with surgery, totally confident that it would be successful and the funds would come in. They had received a verse for me from the Hillsong pastoral team: Jeremiah 30:17 – ‘But I will restore you to health and I will heal your wounds.’ Naomi said I must repeat this verse on a regular basis. These things worked together to change my mind, giving a spiritual perspective rather than just a natural basis for the decision.
Wed 21 April. We went to Paarl for L-A’s physiotherapy and while she was having it I drove to the Paarl Eye Centre and told Dr Nieder-Heitmann’s assistant that I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. She said he would call me as soon as it could be scheduled.
Thurs 22 April. I was walking down the High Street when Dr. Nieder-Heitmann called with a most unusual proposition. He had spoken to Dr James Acton at Cape Eye Hospital in Cape Town and discussed the technical details of my case. Because of the previous eye damage it was not straightforward. Time was of the essence. Dr Acton has 20 years of experience of this surgery and Dr N-H felt his chance of success would be higher. Furthermore, Dr Acton indicated that he would keep the price below Dr N-H’s quotation, enabling me to agree to proceed without qualms. I do not know why an eminent surgeon would take on an emergency and do it for less than his regular price, and Dr N-H has not enlightened me on this in subsequent dialogue (a kindness of God?).
Fri 23 April. We drove to Bellville and I met Dr Acton at 9 am for an examination. I had now been through these eye examinations four times, and I could tell he was expert. He explained about gas or oil filling of the eye to press the retina against the wall, and I sensed he was leaning towards oil for me, but would only be sure once he could see the complete situation. This would require a second operation a few months later to remove the oil. He also read my complete report (the major part of this document) to learn my history. Afterwards, I waited in the car with Laurie-Ann till noon when I presented myself at the eye hospital, very close to his rooms. I went through all the preliminaries including a visit from the anaesthetist and an ECG. At about 3:30 I was wheeled to the theatre, and soon the anaesthetist put a needle in my arm. Next thing I knew was waking up with a bandage and eye patch, and being told all was well, and then being given a cup of tea and sandwiches, my first ‘by mouth’ since 6 am. I relaxed in the reclining passenger seat as Laurie-Ann drove me home, stopping at Spur restaurant in Paarl for excellent senior burgers.
Sat 24 April. We were back in Dr Acton’s rooms so he could take off the bandage. This was the most stressful time for me, calmed down only by Jeremiah 30:17 and Naomi’s faith. But when I looked through my left eye, I could see him. Spontaneously I exclaimed “I can see a man, but he looks like a tree.” But it was absolutely good enough for my peace of mind and felt every bit as a miracle. As I write this a few days later my sight is improving daily, and I am told this will continue over coming months. Then he told me the story of the operation. As soon as he had opened up the eye (thank God for the general anaesthetic) he saw the result of the cataract operation. There was suture residue that he removed, but more significant, he saw that the lens had moved from its ideal seating. He worked to repair that before getting started with the retinal attachment. This may mean that my eye may focus in due course, making the whole process that much more significant for my future vision quality. He did use oil for the retinal surgery to remove the residual stiffness in my retina after the more than 2 weeks since the detachment,
Footnote: The previous Sunday our local pastor Johan Schoonraad had preached about how when challenges have piled up, something even more challenging happens to us that we must find the strength to overcome. As an example he suggested Paul’s being washed up on the Malta shore after shipwreck, only to be bitten by a deadly snake. In the minds of the watching Maltese, when they saw the snake attack they assumed this man must have done something terrible to anger the gods. But when they saw him shake it off, they changed their minds and decided he must be a god. My detached retina was like the snake attack, following my other medical challenges, particularly TB. But we have noticed that when we increase our mission activities in the community, as we have recently, with food provision for the four families, and the OVD Mailbox Club, it angers the devil, and he sends a new challenge that we must fight.
After the final costs of the surgery arrived a few days later, they were $1,201 lower than Dr Nieder-Heitmann’s earlier quotation. It was clear that Dr Acton had reduced his fee for the surgery by about 50%. The hospital facility fee was higher than the estimate from Paarl Eye Centre. We are thankful for my continuing healing, for the care of these eye surgeons and to God for lovingly helping us coordinate care. He is the ultimate healer.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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