Haddy Sohna approaches her work with a rare sense of ease. Taking care of four children would be a full-time job for most, but Haddy manages to balance that responsibility with her work as both a cataract surgeon and partnership coordinator for the HelpMeSee campaign in The Gambia.
Haddy’s journey in health began almost three decades ago, not long after she was born. When she was younger, her mother worked for years as a nurse in Barra, a community on the north bank of the River Gambia. Her mother’s passion for helping others rubbed off on her daughter, who decided to follow a similar track into nursing.
Haddy worked her way up from her first job in healthcare to earn an advanced diploma in Surgical Ophthalmic Nursing, a unique program in Africa that trains and certifies nurses in cataract surgery. Today she’s one of the top cataract surgeons in The Gambia and estimates that she has done 500 cataract surgeries since she became certified.
Ask what intrigues her most and she’ll tell you that there’s a certain privilege to restoring someone’s sight. Whether it was curing a 33-year-old woman who was shunned by her family after she became blind or restoring the sight of a local fisherman, Haddy can share dozens of stories about the impact she feels from her work.
During one of our first days of community screening outside of Banjul, Haddy mentioned that she had not spoken to the fisherman in some time but knew where he worked. (The Gambia, by the way, is an extremely small country, and it’s not uncommon for people to run into friends, colleagues or family as they go about their day).
The fisherman, Baba Car, was born in Senegal in 1944. He moved to The Gambia years ago to fish and lives with his family in a town not far from the coast. They spend their days under a bamboo shelter on the beach near the stall where he sells his daily catch.
Several years ago, Baba noticed his vision begin to decline. He thought little of it until it became so bad that he could no longer even see his hands. It’s hard to imagine trying to mend a fishing net or reel in a catch without any functional sight.
Baba, a fisherman who lives near the Gambian coast, shows Haddy around the local market a year and a half after she treated him for cataract blindness.
Fortunately, Baba came across a local eye care center that referred him to Sheikh Zayed, where Haddy completed his cataract surgery in early 2014. Today, he’s back at work on the coast and comfortably supporting his family.
Haddy, meanwhile, was busy in the operating theater just two days later. With the latest influx of patients from the launch of the HelpMeSee campaign, she became involved in the entire process, from entering patients in the surgical reporting system to testing our surgical kit and conducting surgery. She will help to train other staff members as the campaign grows.
During our campaign launch Haddy worked closely with our Medical Officer for Africa and offered crucial feedback on our single-use surgical kit, a key tool to help reduce the risk of infections. She also treated many of the first patients who received care under the partnership between Sheikh Zayed and HelpMeSee, including an educator whose family runs several major schools.
Haddy holds a number of responsibilities, but her favorite is surgery. For her, restoring sight “is the most interesting part. That’s what motivates me.”
From her patient’s smiles, it’s easy to see why.