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Strangers Band Together to Help West Hartford Woman Receive Surgery

Wadha (left) and Dr. Inna Stroh. Photo courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Rocco

A West Hartford resident was unable to receive life-changing cataract surgery, until several area residents stepped in to help.

By Kristina Vakhman

At a time when it feels like there is little positivity in the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, locals came together to do good for one West Hartford woman, who until then was a complete stranger.

“I didn’t have the money for the [cataract] surgery,” said Wadha, who asked that her last name not be used. “When they approved to do it for free, I was so happy.”

Originally from Jordan, Wadha and her husband came to West Hartford for their daughter, who wanted to pursue a college education in the United States and is now a teacher. Walking down the street one day, Wadha met neighbor and retired ophthalmologist Dr. Elizabeth Rocco, who immediately noticed a problem.

Wadha’s vision was so poor that she couldn’t see the television or read, and other people’s facial features mixed into a blur. When she went to try for her driver’s license, she failed the vision exam and was told to see a doctor. She couldn’t afford to, as she didn’t have insurance and couldn’t receive state benefits as a green card holder.

“I knew that they were stretched quite thin, and then [Wadha] told me that she was told in Jordan that she had cataracts,” Rocco said.

“Without the surgery, I would not get a license, I would not work … [These are things that] depend on one another,” Wadha said, adding that on top of her eyesight lowering her quality of life, COVID-19 made it impossible for the family to return to Jordan and made it difficult to find jobs, even though she and her husband are college-educated.

Rocco said that hearing Wadha’s story struck a chord with her. Wadha and her family were very hardworking and determined to make the most of living in the U.S., and Rocco didn’t want bad vision to get in the way of that. She arranged for Wadha to see an eye doctor, personally driving her and the family to appointments even amid the pandemic.

And after learning that Wadha would need cataract surgery, Rocco and the doctors at Consulting Ophthalmology in Farmington decided to help.

“We’re here to serve the community and part of that felt like this was an important thing to do,” said Dr. Geoff Emerick, a West Hartford resident who specializes in cataracts. He didn’t personally get to meet Wadha, but he was nonetheless happy to have the office assist her. “We’re fortunate that most people that we see have insurance and other means, but it’s a great feeling just to be able to know, without meeting her, that [Wadha] can go out and function.”

Emerick knew just who to ask to do the surgery. Consulting Ophthalmology had recently hired accomplished eye surgeon Dr. Inna Stroh. Stroh, who called Wadha a “very wonderful person,” agreed to waive the surgery fee.

“It was really not much different than any other surgery or patient that I would see, but it was definitely more of a teamwork on the back side of it to get her the free surgery that she needed,” Stroh said.

Stroh wishes that she could help more people with medical necessities like cataract surgeries, and said that she feels gratification for improving the vision of all of her patients.

“There’s quite a few people probably out there who don’t get the health care eye-wise that they probably need because of access, and that’s problematic,” Stroh said.

Pro-bono work isn’t something Consulting Ophthalmology can always do, but Wadha’s special circumstances pushed the office to do all that they could. With the doctors’ generosity and Rocco at her side helping navigate loads of paperwork, Wadha was able to get the cataract surgery for free. The Hartford Hospital financial aid team assisted with defraying the cost at the Newington Eye Center, too, and even the anesthesia doctors stepped in to help, according to Rocco.

“Dr. Beth and Dr. Stroh are very, very kind. You love them. It’s not strange that they do this for free. It’s not strange for these kinds of people,” Wadha said.

Wadha entered 2021 with near-perfect vision and no need for glasses. She’s grateful to everyone who helped her see again – and Rocco said that Wadha and her family now constantly bring her cookies and other home-made foods.

“I want to thank them all,” Wadha said. “And also to the American people, [thank you] for making me feel like I’m home.”

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