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Scarred, nearly blind Iraqi refugee Hayder Abdulwahab gets long-awaited eye exam

TAMPA — Hayder Abdulwahab sat patiently Tuesday through the poking at his eyes, dabbing a stream of liquid drops from his cheeks.

He answered politely as an eye technician asked about the bomb blast that stole his vision. His boyish laugh spilled out at the interpreter's jokes.

But in a quiet moment he looked down at his hands, the calm exterior belying a burning question in the moments before the doctor walked in:

Would they say the words he'd waited years to hear? Could they operate on his eyes? Would he see again?

Abdulwahab, whose story was featured in the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, was an Iraqi bodyguard for an employee of the U.S. military in Baghdad before a car bomb exploded in front of his home in 2004.

Left for dead in a morgue, Abdulwahab was rescued by his brother and underwent surgery.

He lost vision in his left eye and most in his right. He fled to Syria with his wife and sons in 2007. They obtained refugee status and resettled in the Tampa area last August.

Ever since, Abdulwahab, 30, has struggled to make ends meet. His wife can't find a job. They receive public benefits, but not enough to cover the rent. He wants to see again, to work and support his family.

On Tuesday, he had his first eye appointment in this country, at the University of South Florida's Eye Institute. "With your right eye, the cornea transplant they did was very very good," Dr. Hormuz Wadia told Abdulwahab after an exam, regarding the surgery Abdulwahab had before escaping Iraq.

However, scar tissue blocked the doctor's view of the retina. A retinal exam will determine if surgery is possible and how much vision might be restored to the right eye. Wadia referred Abdulwahab to one of the institute's retina specialists, who can use ultrasound and other techniques to assess the situation. The office scheduled an appointment for September.

To see the Times earlier story about Abdulwahab, go to www.links.tampa bay.com.

The story prompted more than a dozen phone calls and e-mails from readers wanting to help. The family set up a post office box where readers can send donations to Hayder Abdulwahab, P.O. Box 16112, Tampa, FL 33687-6112.

"Doctor say, I think we see, just back of eye," Abdulwahab said in broken English after the appointment. "I wish," he said, meaning, he hopes.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Scarred, nearly blind Iraqi refugee Hayder Abdulwahab gets long-awaited eye exam 07/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 12:28am]
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