My name is Bilal Rizvi. I have Down Syndrome. Throughout my childhood, my vision was a blur. Because of my visual impairment, I didn’t have the confidence to take part in games and depended on others to help me with everyday tasks. I was shy and quiet. My world was hazy, and in my mind, it was the norm. My family was not aware that I couldn’t see well.
We discovered Special Olympics in Pakistan when I was 8 years old. Special Olympics was conducting a free health screening for people with intellectual disabilities as part of their Healthy Athletes program in Karachi, and I went for an eye test. My teachers and parents were shocked to find out that I had cataracts in both eyes. My father, in particular, was very upset. He couldn’t believe that I had such a condition more common in the elderly, at this young age. He was depressed for a time and said that things would never improve in my life.
After the screening, the Special Olympics team referred me to the LRBT hospital, a free eye hospital in Karachi, for further treatment. Cataract surgery was recommended, and an appointment was made in December 2016. Unfortunately, on the day of the surgery, I had a chest infection and the procedure had to be postponed. Finally, in April 2017, I had surgery done on one eye.
I will never forget the day I had my eye shield removed at my follow-up check. For the first time in years, I saw the faces of my loved ones and those around me clearly. It was as if the fog had lifted. I was thrilled, and so was my family.
Six months later, I went for a second procedure for my other eye. My life has been completely transformed since. Since my vision improved, I have gained the confidence to take part in various sports activities. I have been training in cycling with Special Olympics Pakistan, and my health has improved as a result. I also love doing art, reading, and playing video games with my elder brother!
My family says I am a changed person. Previously, I kept to myself and stayed home a lot. Today, I am a cheerful and outgoing teenager. Seeing a change in my personality and attitude over the past few years has given my family hope for my future. They know that I will now be able to develop my skills through sports and be an independent person.
Although I have not been able to train outdoors over the past year due to the pandemic, I have been keeping fit at home through online workouts. I am looking forward to when I can train again, in cycling as well as other sports. Special Olympics has given me wings to fly!