Somers Point's Richard Rodriguez almost lost his sight because he couldn't afford health insurance.

A former cook in a coffee shop, Rodriguez is diabetic and went without treatment for the progressive disease for more than two years, he said.

"Waitresses would give me orders, and slowly but surely it was getting hard to see the words," said the 50-year-old father of two. "It came to the point I couldn't do the job, because I couldn't see the paper."

Rodriguez couldn't help his two young sons with homework, he said. All he could see were blurry shapes.

Finally, his ex-wife got an appointment for him with ophthalmologist Jim Huang, of Linwood. During the eye exam, Rodriguez couldn't make out the largest letters, he said. That sent Huang into high gear, getting him set up with the New Jersey Commission for the Blind & Visually Impaired to pay for laser treatments and injections that saved his sight.

"I see a lot of indigent patients with no insurance," Huang said. Often, they are diabetics whose sight has been damaged by the disease, he said. "They are of an age group not quite old enough to have Medicare, and can't afford to buy health insurance."

Huang said he often turns to the commission for help.

He said Rodriguez now has 20/50 sight in one eye and 20/80 in the other, which means he can drive again and see well enough to work again. Rodriguez said he is looking for a job now.

"If this didn't happen, he would start to be blind in both eyes, forever," Huang said, estimating the cost of the treatment that the commission covered at about $10,000.

Rodriguez said he knew his vision was returning when he could see his 9-year-old sneak a piece of candy from a kitchen cabinet.

"I will never take for granted what I see," said Rodriguez, who is now covered by Medicaid and continuing to get eye treatments and medical care for his diabetes. He said the experience also taught him how to accept aid.

"I have people willing to help me, but I have to ask and receive it when they give it to me," he said.

Top Shore employee

Shore Medical Center Transporter Brian Pross, of Ventnor, is the hospital's 2013 Employee of the Year.

Co-workers describe Pross as dedicated to providing superior care in everything he does.

"My goal is to be a positive influence and cheer someone up every time I come to work," Pross said. "I want to connect with someone every day."

Pross joined Shore Medical Center in May of 2009 as a companion and soon transferred to the Transport Department. He and wife, Stephanie, have a daughter, Vivian.

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