Dubai, UAE: Noreen Samara longs to do simple, everyday tasks such as drive a car or go shopping for groceries.
Over the past two years, the 34-year-old Dubai resident has been slowly losing her independence due to a condition that attacks the blood vessels in her eyes and has led her to lose 50 per cent of her vision.
As her condition worsens, the only option for the mother of one is a number of costly specialist laser procedures in the UK, without which she will go blind.
But with a Dh500,000 price tag for the procedures, Noreen, who is in debt because of her medical bills, is unable to fund the treatment that would save her sight.
She is now appealing for donations to help pay for the life-changing treatment.
“I am just so scared,” said Noreen, whose husband Mark has put out an appeal for help on Facebook. “I am really desperate.”
Noreen said she began to have blackouts and started seeing black dots in late 2010.
“It was like having mosquitos flying in front of my eyes all the time,” she said.
Noreen, who has a five-year-old son, Robbie, immediately went to Moorfields Eye Hospital in Dubai. But her rapidly deteriorating condition baffled several specialists in the emirate.
“It is so scary when doctors do not know what is wrong with you,” she said.
In February 2011, a group of specialists at the American Hospital Dubai and a vascular surgeon at The City Hospital finally told her she had vasculitis, a condition that attacks the blood vessels all over the body, including those in the eyes. It caused severe damage to the retina and optic nerves in both of her eyes.
“I was shocked, scared and devastated,” said Noreen.
She was referred to specialists at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, and began an intensive course of steroids to treat the condition.
The Indian, who was born and raised in Dubai and lives at the Marina, said that despite her initial fear of her condition, she is now looking to the future.
Knowing that her job as a sales manager – a job dependent on being able to drive a car – would be affected, Noreen looked to retrain in a career that she could pursue with partial or complete blindness.
“I decided to start studying for a new career as a counsellor, realising that given the prognosis, I may never be able to drive again and could be partially blind for the rest of my life,” she said.
However, her condition has deteriorated in the past few months, forcing her to stop her studies.
“I can never drive again, I cannot go grocery shopping, or even walk around on my own due to partial vision,” she said.
The mother is now fearful of going outside and is almost housebound.
“People can be quite mean,” she said “If you bump into something or cannot see, people are quite cruel and stare. I cannot even tolerate daylight so the blinds are closed all day.”
During her trips to the UK to visit specialists, Noreen said she met and stayed with a woman who lost her sight after being diagnosed with vasculitis.
It gave Noreen a devastating idea of what life would be like if she was blind.
“It is unbelievable. It is like you are living underground, you are not part of society anymore,” she said.
Noreen was told last month that specialised surgery by experts at Moorfields’ main facilities in London was the only option left to save what remains of her vision.
But without a job and accumulating medical bills, the Samaras are already heavily in debt and have been selling furniture, clothes and other belongings to make ends meet.
Noreen is now hoping generous members of the public will come forward and help with the cost of the procedure.
“I need several months of inpatient treatment, including ongoing surgeries to repair the damaged blood vessels and retina to preserve the remaining vision to enable me to have some sight to recover,” she said.
“I am hoping and praying to raise the Dh500,000 needed for medical expenses plus the cost of a three-month stay in the UK.
“Without the ongoing treatment, I will lose my vision and become completely blind. At present with 50 per cent vision, I can get around using a cane stick but I will be completely blind if the ongoing damage is not treated.”
Dr Imran Ansari, an ophthalmologist at Dubai’s Moorfields hospital, confirmed Noreen needed to see a neuro-ophthalmologist in the UK eye or face a “high risk of permanent visual loss”.
To help Noreen, call 050 9501331 or email email@example.com.
© The National