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Loyola surgery saves eyesight of baby born with glaucoma

Intervention by Loyola physicians helped save the eyesight of Christian Earl.

When Christian Earl was 6 weeks old, his mother did not think his eyes looked right, so she took him to the Ophthalmology department at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., for an evaluation.

She was shocked to learn that Christian had glaucoma and other congenital eye problems that were threatening his vision.

“I thought that only older people could get glaucoma,” said Christian’s mother, Olivia Goree.

Dr. Robert J. Barnes, a Loyola ophthalmologist, stabilized Christian’s vision by implanting tiny devices that drained fluid from his eyes. Another Loyola ophthalmologist removed cataracts and scar tissue that also were threatening his vision.

Without the surgeries, Christian, now a year and a half old, almost certainly would have gone blind. Christian has lost some peripheral vision and he needs to wear glasses. But his vision has stabilized and it appears that the rambunctious little boy can see normally, his mother said. “Before the surgeries,” she added, “he was bumping into everything."

When Christian was an infant, his eyes had a hazy bluish-gray color. A pediatrician (not at Loyola) initially told her not to worry. But she wasn’t reassured, so she brought Christian to Loyola for an eye exam. Ophthalmologist Cathleen Cronin, MD, diagnosed his condition and coordinated his care.

Barnes and Cronin said it was very fortunate that Christian’s mother trusted her instincts and brought him in for an ophthalmologic evaluation. “The lesson here is that if your child’s eyes do not look right to you, or if there appear to be vision problems, do not hesitate to have your child seen by an ophthalmologist."

As many as 6 million Americans have glaucoma, and more than 5,000 go blind from the disease every year. While glaucoma is most common in people older than 65, the disease in rare cases can also affect children, said Barnes, who specializes in glaucoma management and surgery. Barnes is among a handful of ophthalmologists who treat glaucoma in children. About 1 in 1 million infants are born with the type of glaucoma that affects Christian, Barnes said.

Glaucoma symptoms include loss of peripheral vision, blurry vision, poor night vision, blind spots and, eventually, blindness.

Glaucoma typically is caused by increased pressure in the eye due to a buildup of fluid that flows into and out of the eye. The pressure damages the optic nerve. Treatments include eye drops, other medications and surgery. In adults with advanced glaucoma, and in children with glaucoma, the surgeon may need to implant a device that drains fluid.

In Christian’s case, Barnes implanted a tiny silicon tube in each eye. The device, regulated by a valve, drains fluid from the eye. By restoring proper pressure to the eye, the device is saving Christian’s eyesight.

“Christian’s case is an example of Loyola’s commitment to providing expert, subspecialty care in difficult and complex cases,” Barnes said.

Barnes is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

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Jim Ritter
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