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Iraqi refugee receives disappointing news about his vision

Hayder Abdulwahab absorbs the news Monday from retina specialist Dr. Peter Pavan at the USF Eye Institute that scaring on his retina leaves little hope of his vision improving.


Hayder Abdulwahab absorbs the news Monday from retina specialist Dr. Peter Pavan at the USF Eye Institute that scaring on his retina leaves little hope of his vision improving.

TAMPA — His family phoned from Iraq to say they were praying for him. Call as soon as you know something, they told him Monday morning.

A few hours later, Hayder Abdulwahab entered the University of South Florida Eye Institute to learn if he would regain his vision.

Abdulwahab, 30, was a bodyguard for U.S. forces in Baghdad until a car bomb exploded in front of his home in 2004. He lost his left eye in the blast and was told doctors could save his right eye with proper surgery.

In 2007, Abdulwahab fled the violence in Iraq for Syria with his wife and two sons. They were resettled as refugees in the Tampa area last summer.

They receive public benefits but struggle to pay bills. After Abdulwahab's story ran this month in the St. Petersburg Times, readers sent several thousand dollars to help. One 10-year-old-boy mailed a letter and his own family photos. Lutheran Services Florida visited with job prospects for Abdulwahab's wife, Iman, and $1,800 from its private donations fund.

But Abdulwahab's greatest hope was to see again so he could support his family. During an earlier visit to the Eye Institute, Abdulwahab learned his cornea was healthy. But scar tissue blocked his retina. Doctors referred him to one of the institute's retina specialists.

"Let's take a look," Dr. Peter Pavan said Monday, tilting Abdulwahab's chair parallel to the floor to conduct an ultrasound. After printing out the film, he brought Abdulwahab's chair upright and began a diagnosis.

"So most of the retina looks pretty good, as does the optic nerve," he said. Pavan paused.

"Unfortunately," he said, "your injury caused a scar in part of the retina, and that scar is where you used to see 20-20. … I can see the scar; it's very dense. And it is not the type of scar that can be surgically removed. So I'm not very optimistic that we can improve your vision."

Pavan said he might be able to reduce the effects of separate scar tissue near the front of the eye but doubted Abdulwahab's vision would ever allow him to read or drive.

Abdulwahab stared ahead as an interpreter relayed the news.

"Thank you so much," he said.

Outside the examining room, Abdulwahab displayed steely optimism.

"I have to thank God for everything, if it gets better or not," Abdulwahab said. "If he improves the blurriness 15 percent, I'll be happy."

A caseworker drove him home, where he would tell his wife the news and called his waiting family in Iraq.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at or (813)661-2441.


To help

Donations may be sent to Hayder Abdulwahab, P.O. Box 16112, Tampa, FL 33687-6112. To read more about Hayder, visit

Iraqi refugee receives disappointing news about his vision 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 9:14pm]
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