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Palestinian Girl Comes to America to Receive Cornea Transplant

cornea transplant patientOn April 4, 2007 in North Brunswick, New Jersey, a 16 year old girl from the country of Palestine, Ahlam Abuowda,  received life- enhancing eye surgery.  Through the help of the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley, Dr. Michael Wong, a cornea transplant surgeon, an international relief agency, and many others, the girl received a corneal transplant. Within one week, the child will significantly recover activities of daily living denied her for many years.

The recipient, at the age of 6, experienced a traumatic eye injury due to a blast from a gas canister. With inadequate medical care together with a very dry environment as well as a suspected underlying eye disorder, the girl’s vision severely handicapped her.

The eldest of 13 children, she lives in Palestine, near the Gaza Strip, in a roofless 2 bedroom apartment with 16 other people. Four of her siblings have spina bifida. Her parents and grandparents are unemployed.  Because of the region’s poverty, sufficient medical care was lacking.  The eye physicians who examined her did not have access to equipment, supplies and pharmaceuticals to provide good medical care.  However, in their assessment, they believed that her retina was fine and the damage was to her cornea.

The Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley recovers donated corneal tissue and distributes the corneas to physicians whose patients have no or low vision due to specific corneal diseases. Dr. Michael Wong, a Princeton, New Jersey board certified ophthalmologist who travels world wide providing free eye care to remote impoverished areas, was contacted by  the relief agency. They mailed him many different eye cases, most which were not amenable to treatment, except in the case of the young Palestinian girl.

After review, Dr. Wong decided to take the case pro bono.  He then met with the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley, the region’s cornea transplant bank, explained the child’s medical plight and they too agreed to provide free services.

Arrangements were made to bring the child to America and a Palestinian host family was selected.  After she made her way to her homeland’s border crossings, she waited days to get through.  Her journey was delayed once because of nearby border bombings and yet another time because of a border killing.  Her wait was further extended due to visa problems.

And finally, when she arrived at New York’s JFK Airport, frightened by the roar of jet engines, unable to see beyond one foot, not knowing any English, what she understood and knew was the promise of a better life.