Woman helps other survivors despite eye woes

Ten years after the Bali bombings, survivors and family members look back on how their lives have changed

DENPASAR - Marketing manager Thiolina Marpaung was sitting in the back of a Toyota Kijang with two colleagues when they felt the vehicle being hit from the rear.

She had taken off her spectacles because of a headache. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the street. Looking back, she muses that not having her glasses on probably saved her eyes.

Even so, they remain scarred. Until today, they ache when she is before a computer for too long, and she avoids driving at night.

"I still tear up when I look at the blast site. I get flashbacks, and all I see is darkness, the hospital, the ambulance," she told The Straits Times. "When I visit my friends at Sanglah hospital - even if it is a mother giving birth - the memories come back. I feel uneasy, so I try to avoid visiting."

Within seconds of hearing the blast, everything went dark. The door next to her opened, and she felt a pair of hands lift her out onto the pavement. Someone carried her into his car, and she ended up in an ambulance heading to the military hospital at the Udayana military command.

There, doctors operated on the then 27-year-old's left eye. What she thought was sand turned out to be glass from the vehicle window.

A month later, the Australian John Fawcett Foundation, which supports sight restoration projects in Bali, arranged for her to fly to Perth for treatment.

She returned to her old job. But in the middle of 2003, she suddenly lost vision in her right eye while looking at a computer screen.

Again, the John Fawcett Foundation stepped in and flew her to Perth. There, doctors found glass fragments in her right eye that had not been detected earlier.

Looking back at the blast, she wonders aloud: "Who can I be angry with? It won't help."

Ms Thiolina, who is single, has designed an anniversary calendar to raise funds for victims of the blast and their families.

She and other survivors are part of Askobi, an association for victims of terrorist bombings in Indonesia. They are lobbying the Health Ministry to cover basic medical care for survivors, many of whom are poor or cannot work.