The daughter of a blind mother and a legally blind godmother, Heather grew up “witnessing the blind living in a sighted world,” she said. So, when her mother was visiting and took an accidental tumble with her three-month-old son, George, the family rushed to the emergency department at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The last thing Heather expected was a visual impairment diagnosis for her child.
At Lurie Children’s, an attending physician in the emergency department noticed, totally unrelated to the fall, that George’s vision appeared to be obstructed. Heather and her husband Kevin had previously expressed concerns about their son’s vision to their pediatrician, but were assured that vision develops until children are four months of age and were advised to monitor it. Within 12 hours at Lurie Children’s, George was diagnosed with bilateral cataracts, or cloudiness on the lenses of his eyes, that were almost completely obstructing the vision in both eyes.
Acting quickly in removing the cataracts was key in giving George a better chance at avoiding severe long-term vision loss, said Dr. Rahmani, who is also an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“Early detection and treatment of pediatric cataracts is crucial because the ability to focus or fixate with the eyes develops in the critical first 3-4 months of life,” said Dr. Rahmani. Because cataracts inhibit the brain’s process from working in harmony with the eye to develop these skills, babies with cataracts like George can develop nystagmus, in which the eyes shake in repetitive and uncontrolled movements.
“The longer it takes to remove cataracts in this critical period of life, the more likely it is that the nystagmus may develop or not reverse itself,” Dr. Rahmani said.
Fortunately, George’s surgeries — one for each eye — were successful. Dr. Rahmani was able to remove the cataracts by scraping them from George’s lenses.
George’s parents and care providers won’t know for sure the extent of his permanent vision impairment until he grows up and can tell them what he can see, but Dr. Rahmani said he anticipates that George will have good functional vision that won’t limit his future. Furthermore, the cataracts were removed early enough in his life that George has the chance to partially or completely reverse the nystagmus he endures.
Today, George sees with the help of contacts and glasses and participates in physical and vision therapy. Dr. Rahmani expects his glasses and contacts prescription to decrease as he ages, eventually requiring only one method of corrected vision.
Meanwhile, at home, George, who turned one-year-old in June, is meeting milestones on time, Heather said. He has started pulling himself up to stand and loves crawling everywhere, chasing the family dog.
“He is the happiest little guy,” Heather said. “Giving my son sight is the best gift anyone could possibly give us. I remain so unbelievably thankful for Lurie Children’s and the wonderful doctors who strive daily to provide the best possible care.”
For Dr. Rahmani, George’s story is one that highlights the important role of pediatricians in recognizing cataracts as early as possible.
Heather agrees. “As a pediatrician, you become a trusted advisor in this care circle with new parents who sometimes feel like they have no idea what’s going on. By recognizing signs of health issues early, pediatricians can change the course of a child’s life.”