Imagine knowing at 13 that you want to save sight when you grow up? Eva Susanto knows and is well on the way to achieving her goal of becoming an ophthalmologist.
The Darwin school girl has skipped a few grades and should finish high school in 2024, when she’ll be 15. Then she hopes to join her brother Peter at Charles Darwin University to study medicine.
Keen to make her ophthalmology dream a reality, Eva came to Brisbane with her mother and spent a week with QEI’s research team under the guidance of our Chief Scientist Professor Traian Chirila.
Her week with QEI was a prize for winning the Brain Bee Challenge (Northern Territory division), a competition run by the Australasian Neuroscience Society to promote careers in science and technology.
Running experiments in a lab with senior researchers Drs Shuko Suzuki and Onur Sakiragaoglu was a new and exciting experience for Eva.
“I’ve never really done anything like that before in school or anywhere else,” Eva says. “We had to put on our lab coats first and then we had to wash our hands thoroughly and use special equipment to make sure there was a sterile environment.”
Eva did more than simply watch QEI scientists at work. She grew retinal photoreceptor cells for testing the antioxidant effect of silk protein sericin, one of the key research projects currently underway at QEI. Eva learned how to extract sericin using an autoclave and purify it, then apply electrophoreses to estimate the distribution of molecular weight.
Dr Suzuki says Eva was a quick learner. Although it was her first time using a pipette, Eva mastered working in a sterile environment and by the end of the week could conduct the antioxidative assay with limited supervision.
While the lab work was exciting, Eva’s passion is patient care, so she jumped at the chance to shadow Dr Alexandra Manta during clinical trials consultations.
“Going to see the patients was a highlight,” Eva says.
“It’s really important not only to have the knowledge and be able to work in a lab with other people, but also be able to work with patients who come from really different walks of life.”
“I really want to be an ophthalmologist now,” Eva says.
“Being able to see all the machines used to check people’s retina and stuff like that was really cool. I can’t wait to be working with those one day.”
Eva’s grandma, who has glaucoma, sparked Eva’s interest in ophthalmology.
“Grandma struggles to read small writing and even relatively large writing. It’s been difficult watching her not be able to do all the things that she wants to do.”
“My grandma really helped me make the decision to be an ophthalmologist. But also, the fact that Darwin doesn’t have many specialist doctors. And I’m like, why not? I can do it and be able to treat other people from Darwin as well.”
When Eva takes a break from her textbooks, she heads for the kitchen. Every Sunday her family gathers to make traditional Indonesian snacks – corn fritters, potato fritters and klepon, a sweet made from rice flour, palm sugar and coconut – which they sell at the nearby Nightcliff Markets. Eva’s grandma is passing down the recipes to the younger generation.
This year, inspired by her time at QEI, Eva and her family chose to donate profits from their snack sales to the Queensland Eye Institute Foundation.
“I wanted to give back,” Eva says. It’s also important to Eva that QEI continues its sight saving journey.
“One day, if I really do become an ophthalmologist, I’ll make sure to go back to QEI and be like, this is where it all started.”
Learn more about the Queensland Eye Institute at these links:
Queensland Eye Institute Foundation is Queensland’s largest independent academic research institute devoted to eye-related health and diseases and with your help, we can work towards new treatments and cures. At QEIF our mission is to reduce eye disease, improve eye health, and ultimately eliminate preventable blindness in the community. With no government funding, QEIF’s survival relies solely on the generosity of you and the community.