The Countess of Wessex has been traveling the world meeting moms of premature babies and raising awareness for avoidable blindness on behalf of her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth

By Simon Perry
June 19, 2020 09:00 AM
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Sophie Wessex on a tour to India
The Royal Family/Instagram

Sophie, Countess of Wessex has become one of the royal family's ambassadors to the world.

The mother of two, who wed Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, Prince Edward, in 1999, has the unique ability to connect with moms who, like her, had premature babies. One of her other key causes is blindness prevention.

Sophie is well-traveled around the Commonwealth of nations on her own and alongside husband Prince Edward.  On her recent trips to India, Malawi and Bangladesh on behalf of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, those with her saw first-hand the great impact she can have.

At a hospital in Hyderabad, India, Sophie, 55, visited premature babies who could be cradled in the palm of a hand. During her visit, she connected with moms who were caring for their newborns.

“She spoke very openly about her own experience as a mother of a premature child,” a staffer who traveled with Sophie tells PEOPLE. “She understood why some women were quite traumatized by the experience. That connection was very beautiful.”

Kate Middleton and Sophie, Countess of Wessex on a joint video call to nurses
Kensington Palace

It is a connection born of personal experience. When her daughter Lady Louise Windsor arrived about a month early 16 years ago (and weighing just 4lb 9oz), Sophie lost several pints of blood in the emergency. She was separated from Louise in the first days, as her baby was taken to another hospital, 35 miles away, for special treatment.

For more on Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and how she is seen as the royal family's secret weapon, pick up a copy of this week's issue of PEOPLE on newsstands on Friday

Sophie's daughter was also born with esotropia, a condition in which one or both eyes point inward. "It's still not perfect, but none of us are," Sophie told The Sunday Times on June 7.

Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn
Samir Hussein/WireImage

Much of Sophie's recent work on the world stage has been to help lead campaigns on avoidable sight issues.

In November 2017, Sophie visited Bangladesh, where women were being taught about the importance of nutrition and diabetes awareness, including the fact that diabetes can sometimes cause loss of sight. Sophie sat among a group of about 200 people to listen.

The source shares that an 8-year-old boy showed interest in Sophie during her visit "and she took him on her knee."

Sophie noticed immediately that he "had a pronounced squint," the source adds. There was a senior eye doctor among the entourage and Sophie pointed out the patient and the doctor "jumped in and said he would treat the child for free. And he did.”

Queen Elizabeth and Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

On another trip to the African country of Malawi, "she saw that there was a blind boy in the class and she went and sat with him for a few minutes," says the former staffer. "She was sitting tenderly with him and talking to him. It was a wonderful moment of compassion and understanding.”

The source tells PEOPLE, “She is able to find a connection with people across cultures and languages and background. I think of it as scattering magic dust."