Woman Persists To Get Sight For Panamanian Mother

December 30, 1990|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Life today is very different for Panamanian native Elena Osorio than it was just two months ago.

Blind, alone and unable to work, she lived in poverty and political upheaval during Manual Noriega's dictatorship and the U.S. invasion that ousted him in 1989.

Today, after eight months of persistence and wrangling to get a visa, she's living safely at APG with her daughter and has had a cataract removed that blinded her left eye.

FOR THE RECORD - A story in the Dec. 30 edition of The Harford County Sun misstated the amount Elena Osorio was charged for cataract surgery by Harford Memorial Hospital.
The hospital bills totaled $1,800, a hospital spokesman confirmed.
The Harford County Sun regrets the error.

The 74-year-old had sold her home in the Panamanian countryside for $1,500 and moved into a one-room apartment in Panama City last year. The building was bombed during the invasion.

Her family at Aberdeen Proving Ground lost track of her until a Panamanian friend reported seeing her in a food line.

Homeless, Osorio was living at a Roman Catholic church.

"This is the happiest I've ever been, being with my family and being able to see. It feels good," Osorio said in Spanish as her granddaughter, Sherry Coffey, translated.

Osorio has been blind in her right eye since childhood. Her left eye was clouded by the cataract that started 10 years ago.

A Havre de Grace ophthalmologist performed the operation to remove the cataract for $100. The procedure normally costs at least $3,000.

Once unable to see beyond 5 feet, the day after the operation Osorio was pointing out the colors in her dress. Now, Osorio says she can see perfectly out of her left eye.

The operation and the immigration was the result of the persistence of Osorio's daughter, Margarita Coffey.

Coffey arranged for her mother, who had been separated from her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren for more than three years, to be reunited here with her family in November.

"This is like somebody opened up God's door for me," said Coffey.

"Before all the doors were closed."

Osorio arrived in Harford County on Nov. 3. Two weeks later, she had her first appointment at Hirsch Eye Group to determine how to restore her vision.

Dr. Dahlia Hirsch scheduled Osorio for a cataract extraction and a lens implant at Harford Memorial Hospital Dec. 13. The procedure normally cost $3,000, said Peter Knapp, a spokesman for Hirsch Eye Group.

But Coffey said she learned that her health insurance policy would not cover her mother's operation and the family had no other way to pay it.

Coffey said she considered canceling the procedure because the family would have to assume the cost.

While Hirsch charged only $100, the family does have $4,800 in hospital charges for the procedure. Coffey said several civic and church groups are raising money to help Osorio pay the hospital bills.

Coffey said she exhausted much of her earnings as a food server at the APG mess hall to bring her mother to the United States.

She first attempted to bring her mother to the United States in April, but was denied a visa. She went to Panama in July to work through the Panamanian government, but it refused to allow Osorio to leave.

"My mother, she felt even more alone," Coffey said. "She felt more dead."

When she returned home, Coffey called on the state department again.

This time, officials granted Osorio a temporary visa so she could get medical attention here.

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