A fighting spirit - Robert Chong, Melbourne
Robert Chong joins a Tai Chi class at the Waverley Chinese Citizens Club he started
When Robert Chong was leaving his native Malaysia to come to Australia, his father wanted to show him that respect, not aggression, was a better way for Robert to prove himself in his new country. His father simply asked Robert to land a hard blow to his father’s chest. Robert tried but found himself flat on his back at his father’s feet.
Standing over his prone son, Mr Chong senior offered Robert this advice; “When you get to Australia you don’t get into any fights – fighting is not for you. It will only demean you.”
That was 48 years ago, and Robert remembers the lesson well. But while Robert has not ignored his father’s advice, he is widely recognised as one of Melbourne’s great fighters when it comes to building a better Australia for all people.
Nowadays Robert is also fighting a more personal fight, a battle against the threat of blindness through glaucoma.
Five years ago during a regular eye check up with his optometrist, Shirley Loh, Robert was diagnosed with glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve related to the pressure in the eye. If untreated it could lead to blindness.
Robert says the diagnosis shook him. “When I heard I had glaucoma the fear that it conjured up was blindness. I am quite an active person. I thought if I go blind what would I do?”
But Robert is no stranger to taking on hard battles. He was elected to local government in 1997, was twice elected Mayor of the City of Whitehorse, and is still a serving Councillor. But even before he was elected to Council, he had been instrumental in fighting for community services in areas such as Home & Community Care, Aged Care and migrant services. He has championed migrant groups to get government support for culturally sensitive facilities and services. His tireless community involvement earned him an Order of Australia award in 1991.
Robert’s treatment for glaucoma started with a course of special eye-drops, a common and usually effective way to reduce pressure in the eyes. But after a year or so the pressure had not stabilised and Robert was given the option of laser surgery to open small holes near where fluid is supposed to leave the eye. This makes it easier for the eye to release pressure naturally.
“When my specialist mentioned laser treatment I thought it might be painful or put me out of action for weeks. It worried me. But it was nothing really. You get some eye drops to numb the eye then it is just click, click, click. It was all over in 10 or 15 minutes and there was no pain involved. I was quite happy because I was quite apprehensive when he mentioned laser treatment.
“The treatment got my eye pressure down. It could go down further but as a treatment it was quite successful.”
Optometrist Shirley Loh said because Robert was diagnosed early and started treatment, he has minimised his sight loss. But he will need to continue using the eye drops to help reduce the pressure and get regular eye checks to monitor any change to his eyes.
“Treatment for glaucoma cannot restore sight that is lost but it can usually prevent or slow progress of the disease and further sight loss,” Ms Loh said.
Robert agrees. “I was lucky. I got tested and found the problem early. Everyone should get their eyes checked to make sure they are in good condition. If you have a local optician he or she will be able to tell you if you have signs of glaucoma.”
The ever-optimistic Robert is confident that he will win his fight against glaucoma.
“I have faced many challenges in my life, but if you believe in something and you put your efforts toward making a difference, you can overcome the barriers.”
One of Robert’s early successes for his community is the Waverly Chinese Senior Citizens Club, which he started in 1989. The club has grown to more than 1,650 active Chinese and non-Chinese members who get together through the week for Tai Chi classes, music days and social outings.
“This club is not just for Chinese people. It is about sharing this wonderful culture with others so that we can all see that our country is a place of many cultures, of many people who have come together as Australians.
“We are growing as a nation. Learning to respect and enjoy differences. Back in 1989, council was working with older people but it was all focused on English speaking residents. No one spoke Chinese. Because of this the older Chinese people could not enjoy the services that were available because they couldn’t understand what was going on.
“I thought a new club for older Chinese would help them feel more comfortable and also open doors for others to see how older Chinese people keep active. Today it is a place of great harmony.”
For more information about what you can do to protect your vision or the vision of the people you care about, visit www.health.gov.au/eyehealth .
Facts about Glaucoma
- Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. It affects people of all ages, but is more common in people as they get older.
- More than 300,000 Australians have glaucoma.
- Although there is no cure for glaucoma it can usually be controlled and further loss of sight either prevented or at least slowed down.
- Your optometrist can test for glaucoma and provide advice or referrals to help you fight the disease.
Page currency, Latest update: 14 October, 2010