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What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

Posted By Message


Member since 3/06

22093 total posts


What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Family pictures of 2-year-old Meghan Russo show a normal, vivacious toddler: Meghan clowning around with her older brother Michael; Meghan dressed up as a princess for Halloween; Meghan covered in ice cream. They're quintessential memories of an American childhood.

But if you look at the pictures more closely, you see that something about them is not quite right. Her right eye has the classic red center seen in flash photographs; her left eye does not. Instead, there's a milky white circle where her pupil should be.

"A couple of times when I was giving them a bath, I noticed her eyes were reflecting funny," said Meghan's mother, Mary Beth Russo. It reminded her of the glassy, glowing quality that dogs' eyes have in pictures.

Meghan Russo's tumor in her left eye was apparent in photographs before her surgery. Her healthy right eye appeared red from the camera flash; her left eye showed up white.

At their next trip to the pediatrician, on Oct. 28, Mary Beth asked the doctor to take a look. The doctor shined a light in Meghan's eye and said she saw nothing. Mary Beth pressed her to look again without the light. This time the doctor noticed something abnormal.

A few hours later they were in an ophthalmologist's office hearing that Meghan might have retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer that effects about 300 kids in the United States every year and only 5,000 kids worldwide.

"I thought my little girl was going to get glasses," said Mary Beth, 33. "My biggest concern was, I hope she doesn't have to get glasses."

Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina, the layer of cells at the back of the eye that sense light. These cells transmit what we see to the brain through the optic nerve. In rare cases, the retinal cells grow quickly and out of control, turning into cancer. If the tumors are not treated, they will continue to grow, sometimes traveling up the optic nerve to the brain.

The most common symptoms of this type of cancer include a white or pink pupil and lazy eye. Less common symptoms are redness in the white part of the eye, eye pain, vision problems and a pupil that does not get smaller with light.

"If we had known what we were looking for, it would have been easy to pick up. That's what makes me upset," Mary Beth said. "There are so many things that people warn you about, don't buy this toy because it was made somewhere and it could have lead in it and don't let your child use this stroller because the safety mechanism is off. We know all the specifics about these random toys and products, and we didn't know to check the pictures for red eye."

There are two types of retinoblastoma. In one third of cases, the gene mutation causing the cancer is present at birth and is in all the cells of the body. For kids with this type of retinoblastoma, called hereditary, the chances of developing cancer later in life are as much as 40 percent higher, according to the American Cancer Society.

In the other two-thirds of cases, called non-hereditary, the gene mutation develops after birth and is only in one eye. As far as cancers go, the outlook for this one is good. More than 90 percent of kids with retinoblastoma can be cured.

If Meghan's cancer turns out to be hereditary, the future generations of their family will have to be tested for the cancer. Mary Beth, now pregnant with their third child, says they will have an ophthalmologist check their newborn at the hospital.

"We had these feelings of guilt and there are so many 'what ifs.' If we had done this, if we had done that, but you can't 'what if' it to death," said Mike Russo, 33, Meghan's father. "You just say 'OK, this is where we're at.'"

On Nov. 3, six days after learning their daughter might have cancer, the Russos went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, a short trip from their home in Staten Island. There, they met with Dr. David H. Abramson, an ophthalmic oncologist, who said their treatment options were a special form of chemotherapy he had developed or enucleation, the removal of Meghan's eye.

At that point, Meghan could no longer see out of her left eye. The chemotherapy treatment had no ill side effects and was very successful, Abramson told them. Even so, he pushed them toward removing the eye altogether.

"We heard all this bad news about our baby, and when we heard about the chemo it was like grabbing at a lifeline. It was something hopeful. So of course that's what we're going to do, we're going to try to save the eye," Mary Beth said.

In the midst of all this, Mary Beth's mother died of a heart attack on Nov. 1. At her mother's wake, Mary Beth repeated the plan for her daughter's eye to friends and family. Something didn't sit right.

"I just couldn't believe that I wanted to play Russian roulette with my daughter's life, that I wanted to leave it to chance, just for cosmetic reasons, leaving this, this poison inside of her," she said.

The Russos decided to have the eye removed. Afterward, Abramson told them that Meghan's eye had been more severely damaged than he had originally thought. Meghan will be fitted with a prosthetic when she has healed enough. Prosthetic eyes today are a far cry from the infamous glass eyes. If the eye muscles are still intact, they can be attached to the prosthetic so it moves in concert with the other eye.

Just a week or so after having her left eye removed, Meghan is singing classics like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and telling knock-knock jokes. Her blond pigtails stick up into the air above her head, her mouth dusted with cookie crumbs. Only the large bandage covering her eye seems out of the ordinary.

"You look at her and see her moving around, making a mess, see her doing all the things a 2-year-old should be doing," her father said. "It helps get your mind around it."

Posted 11/19/09 11:51 AM
Long Island Weddings
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Member since 5/05

30390 total posts


Re: What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

I read a story like this once - another Mom was looking at a pic on a website of someone else's child and emailed the Mom to have her eye checked and it turned out she had cancer.

So sad...

Posted 11/19/09 11:53 AM

Mommy's Girls! ♥

Member since 11/07

10116 total posts


Re: What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

Posted by Shorty

I read a story like this once - another Mom was looking at a pic on a website of someone else's child and emailed the Mom to have her eye checked and it turned out she had cancer.

So sad...

I read the same story too. It was a woman in England who had read an article about the cancer, saw another woman's child's pic online, contacted her and thankfully the little girl was treated and is now doing well. Chat Icon Ever since reading that story, I always check out my DD's eyes in pics. I feel so bad for this little girl in Staten Island!! Chat Icon Chat Icon Chat Icon Chat Icon

Posted 11/19/09 12:00 PM

Mommy's little YouTube Star!

Member since 8/05

14470 total posts


Re: What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

Chat Icon

How tragic

Posted 11/19/09 12:00 PM

Sooo Sleep Deprived....

Member since 7/06

2742 total posts


Re: What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

I'm glad you posted this. Families that have been affected by this are lobbying to make it mandatory to have kids pupils dilated as part of the ped's routine to check for this. I had my DD's eyes checked a few months ago and I am glad I did.

Posted 11/19/09 12:42 PM

Live in the Present

Member since 5/05

3572 total posts


Re: What a shame - doctors miss eyec cancer in toddler.

I long for my children when I hear stories like this.
right now, I just want to leave work to go hug my kids. I sometimes forget how precious they are and how much we go through to get them here and to be healthy.

God Bless all of our children!!!!

Posted 11/19/09 12:48 PM
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