Harris Co. assistant helps blind, homeless Navy vet get eye surgery

“I’m going to get a job and everything. Have my own place,” Robert Wade said. “I believe there is a very good chapter to come.”

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — At 62, Robert Wade has his sights set on the future. Homeless for more than a decade, blind for most of this year, the US Navy veteran has just undergone surgery to correct his vision.

The life-changing operation was orchestrated by a Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy. A Texan helping Texans.

It all started on April 16. Deputy Tracey Thomas, who is one of 11 dedicated assistants on the HCSO Homeless Outreach Team, responded to a call near Highway 290 and the Sam Houston Toll Road.

“A man was disoriented, with no clothes, just his underwear, sitting in the middle of the roadway,” he said.

Robert Wade had no idea exactly where he was sitting. He says that over the past few months his vision had deteriorated so badly that he was forced to keep food, water and clothing close at hand. It’s the only way for him to keep track of things.

Friend Robin Craig was worried.

“He was going to be killed,” Craig said, either by a vehicle or by someone wanting to hurt Wade and steal the few things he kept in a camping tent along a busy street.

Craig befriended Wade seven years ago after reading about him on social media. Craig sparked the friendship by bringing fresh meals to Wade.

“I was a little scared at first. Because you hear that homeless people are schizophrenic, bipolar. They’re dangerous. They’re alcoholics. They’re addicted to drugs,” Craig said.

She says Wade was unlucky. Craig and more than a dozen other neighbors have looked after the 6ft tall black man with a burgeoning build for the past few years. Neighbors brought food, washed her clothes, replenished her toiletries. Wade refused permanent shelter several times. He lived in a tent for years.

“I was able to handle it until about two months ago,” Wade said. It’s hard to keep track of time when you’re blind. He thinks he went blind two months ago, but also told KHOU 11 he thinks he lost his sight in January. It is now almost May.

“It was tough. It was tough,” Wade said of living on the streets without being able to see.

Despite the danger and calls from the community for the police, Wade was still unconvinced that Deputy Thomas was “there to help him with all his needs.” The Friday the two met, Thomas gave Wade time to think about visiting doctors at a VA hospital. He had the weekend to consider getting treatment.

Monday morning, April 19, Thomas said she went to work early and “went through that tent. I said let’s go.

She escorted Wade to a VA hospital for a consultation with an eye doctor. Thomas, who works with several homeless Harris County residents, juggled work responsibilities while taking Wade to “doctor’s appointments. Make sure he gets the medicine in his eyes four times a day. Make sure I take him for a COVID test before the operation.

Last Thursday, doctors operated on Wade’s left eye. Thomas described the moment as “so powerful, and I felt like I won the lottery.” Wade said it was life changing because he could see immediately after the operation.

“He could see me,” Thomas said. “Finally see who he was talking to.”

Today, a week later, KHOU 11 met with Wade and Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies within sight of Wade’s tent.

“It really makes a difference when you can see,” Wade said as he peered through his tent and tried to find his way around a neighborhood he was navigating blindly.

Wade no longer lives outside. Deputies moved him to a halfway house so his eye could heal in a clean environment. Deputy Thomas placed Wade on a number of permanent housing listings. Fingers crossed he will soon be able to enter a forever home.

“It’s a complete and miraculous story,” said Craig, who will now visit his friend inside.

“I think it’s going to be pretty good because I’m going to get a job and everything. Get my own spot,” Wade said. “I believe there is a very good chapter to come.”

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