Nearly 18 months after undergoing surgery to improve her vision, Perata Atutahi woke up with a hole in her eye.
Hours later, after being rushed to hospital by ambulance, the 32-year-old felt an "explosion" inside her head, followed by immense pain.
Now, seven weeks on, with one eye removed and vision in the other severely restricted, she is desperate for help to care for her children and navigate around her home.
The claim was lodged in early June but ACC says it is facing a "considerable waitlist" for specialist eye advice which it needs because of her complex claim. As a result, a decision about whether it will cover her for a treatment injury could still be months away.
In the interim, Atutahi's partner, Uriah Taylor, is unable to work as she needs help at home.
Atutahi was diagnosed with keratoconus as a teenager, an inherited eye condition where the normally round cornea becomes thinned, distorted and cone-shaped.
She wore contact lenses but eventually could no longer tolerate them. After her two sisters had successful corneal transplants, she sought advice from a specialist.
"Eighteen months ago we went to see a surgeon who said he'd give her a better chance at life with better vision," Taylor told the Weekend Herald.
So, the Te Kūiti woman went ahead with a full thickness corneal transplant on her right eye, performed by an ophthalmologist at Waikato Hospital.
Corneal grafts come with the risk of rupture. Atutahi says she was aware of transplant rejection.
In mid-April, her right eye became inflamed and itchy. Her specialist prescribed more steroid eye drops but it did not improve and she scheduled another visit with the doctor.
However, days before the appointment, Atutahi woke up unable to see out of the eye.
"All I could really see was a black circle. He [Taylor] was like 'Oh my God there's a hole in your eye'."
Taylor said the graft had "lifted" off Atutahi's eye. "I had to ring an ambulance."
At Waikato Hospital's emergency department Atutahi says she was immediately sent to a ward to be assessed by a surgeon but when she got there at 8am she was told to come back at 11am because the doctor had gone into surgery. It was the Saturday of Queen's Birthday Weekend and Atutahi was alone because Taylor stayed home with their children.
The pain in her eye was growing and she felt nauseated. Anti-nausea medication and morphine were administered.
"I went to the bathroom and vomited."
Atutahi felt an "explosion" inside her head as she was sick.
"I was screaming on the floor. I couldn't see or find where the emergency buzzer was. I crawled out of the bathroom on the floor.
"I told the doctors it felt like my head just exploded and that's when the immense pain started."
Medical notes state Atutahi was admitted with a reopened surgical incision of the right eye, implanted lens dislocation, retina detachment and haemorrhage. Eight hours after arriving in the ED, Atutahi had emergency surgery to re-attach the graft but the sight was already lost.
Days later she was sent home with painkillers, but Taylor said his partner of 13 years complained of excruciating pain.
He took her back to hospital where the eye was removed.
The couple made a claim to ACC for treatment injury and withdrew KiwiSaver contributions to cover Taylor's ongoing sick leave, while they wait for an answer.
Taylor's income prevents the couple from qualifying for Work and Income support but he usually works from 6am to 5pm, leaving Atutahi to care for their children Nivayah, 10, Lewis, 6, and Hohaia, 5.
"I'll probably never see my children's faces again."
When an injury is covered, ACC may pay or contribute to the cost of treatment, rehabilitation and compensation. The couple hope it will cover the cost of home help and installing guide rails in their home — allowing Taylor to return to work knowing his partner could manage on her own.
An ACC treatment injury cover specialist told the couple ACC needed further clarification on whether Atutahi's injury was caused by treatment.
It would now seek external clinical advice and this would take some time, the specialist said in an email.
"We have a considerable waitlist for ophthalmology advice at present so this will possibly be up to two months for a response. "
A spokesman said ACC acknowledged the difficult time for Atutahi and said it had been working with speed to investigate her claim.
"This is a complex claim and we're required to establish what has caused the issue with her eye.
"Our legislation allows us up to nine months to investigate treatment injury claims and we need to get this right for Perata. We can only fund entitlements after a claim is accepted."
Waikato District Health Board said it could not release personal health information but said: "The type of injury described would generally occur as a result of significant trauma directly to the cornea."