Thursday, May 14, 2009

Annoying "Red Eye" in Photos? Be thankful it's not "white eye"...

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt or uncle, child care worker, or even a photographer who works with children - PLEASE READ THIS... and pass it on to anyone who has children or deals with children - especially very young children. This is not meant to cause undue alarm, but merely to make you aware of something you may not have known - and it could save a life.

My daughter Angela is a stay at home mom with two daughters - one is 20 months old and the youngest is 9 weeks old. One of the things Angela does in what little free time she has is to stay in touch with other moms on Cafe Mom. I'm a firm believer in these types of networking sites, but needless to say, she tends to catch a bit of flack from other family members whenever she brings up something she read about there. Now mind you, my daughter does tend to worry about things a little more than the average mom, but her vigilance has also made her wiser and more likely to notice things that other people have missed. And her vocalness about the things she reads about has helped not only her, but family and friends, catch problems much sooner.

This past Tuesday, she happened to run across a post from a mom whose son had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare genetic (although not necessarily hereditary) malignancy of the eye that occurs in 1 in approximately 15,000 live births (250-350 new cases) in the US) each year. 90% of the cases are diagnosed before age 5 with 60% diagnosed before age 2. Left unnoticed and untreated, the disease is almost always fatal. Early detection and treatment has led to a successful cure rate of over 90%. Which brings me to the point of this article.

The mom who posted on Cafe Mom only realized that something was wrong with her son by reading another article on retinoblastoma. One of the first symptoms that something might be wrong is the appearance of a "white eye" (leukocoria) as opposed to a "red eye" in a flash photograph of the child. This is due to the tumors on the retina causing the flash to reflect back as white light rather than the red normally seen and caused by the reflection of the flash off the blood vessel rich retina. This mom realized that some of the photos she had of her son showed this "white eye." She immediately took new photos of the child and in each one, one pupil reflected white.

To make a long story short, as I mentioned earlier, her son was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, and is facing the probability that he will have to have his eye surgically removed due to the progress of the disease. This mom was amazed that she had never heard of the "white eye" phenomenon before and even more surprised to learn that many physicians do not routinely screen for this type of disorder. I had never heard of this either - and my career had been in the health insurance industry researching disorders and their treatments! Had her child's physician done a simple short screening with an ophthalmoscope (the instrument a physician uses to look at the retina of your eye) at each well visit, the disease might have been caught at a much earlier stage and been treatable without surgery. This mom is now doing her best to make people aware of this disease and the simple things any parent can do to screen their own child on a regular basis.

My daughter mentioned the article to her boyfriend (the father of both of their girls) and he shrugged it off as Angela's latest "worry over nothing". Evidently he mentioned it to his stepmother (who is a nurse) the next day during a discussion and she said that she had never heard of such a thing and put it down to Angela spending too much time online. Surprisingly tho, that evening, I received a phone call from my daughter who was unquestionably upset - a photo of her 9 week old daughter taken over the past weekend by the other grandparents showed an unmistakeable "white eye." (The photo to the right is the notorious photo of my granddaughter Cheyenne, with the other Grandad) Not being one to move slowly to act when it comes to health matters (just like her mother - which can be both a blessing and a curse at times), she had Cheyenne at the pediatrician's this morning, photo in hand, and mom (yes, she likes the moral support of me accompanying her to dr's visits) by her side.

While the Dr had performed a well visit just last Friday and had examined the baby's eyes for tracking and pupil function, today he used an ophthalmoscope and did a much more thorough exam. He's a great Dr and always errs on the side of caution, so while he didn't feel that there was any abnormality that he could detect, based on the photo he did refer Cheyenne to a pediatric ophthalmologist. I will be going with my daughter and granddaughter(s) to a thankfully quickly arranged consultation with a specialist tomorrow (Friday) morning.

I'm praying and hoping against hope that it is just a bad camera angle, especially since a photo I had taken on Easter appears completely normal. On the other hand, should it turn out that there is a concern, I am grateful that that "Cafe Mom" mother had the wherewithall to "get the word out." Now it is my turn to spread the word and if this post educates even one person to seek early treatment for someone whose life this disease will touch, I will be thankful that they took the time to read it.

The simplest thing you can do is exactly what this mother did. Take a flash photo of your child, making sure that any red eye reduction settings the camera may have are turned off. The pupils of both eyes should appear red. Before you grab your cameras or those recent photos of your child, be aware that the appearance of a white reflection does not necessarily mean that the child has retinablastoma. There are other disorders which can account for this particular symptom, and there is also the possibility that it is merely a quirk in the way the flash is hitting the pupil. But, that being said, if you see the abnormality on at least two photos taken from different angles or even a single photo taken head on with the childs gaze diverted to the side, you should consider having a medical screening done. I found a website has some wonderful information on the "flash photo" screening method as well as some other symptoms that can indicate a problem. Please check it out, as they have done a wonderful job of explaining things -much better than I could hope to do.

I hope this disease never touches your life or that of a loved one, but knowledge is power and I hope now that you are aware of the implications of the "white eye" phenomenon, you will take the time to screen your child on a regular basis (and who doesn't want more pictures of their kids, anyway!) Also, be sure when you take the kids in for their well visits, you request that the Dr take the extra couple minutes to use that ophthalmoscope and set your mind at ease.

Normally I would be thinking TGIF, but it's going to be a helluva day, between the consult for my granddaughter and the fact that my older brother is having a radical prostatectomy tomorrow (Friday) morning for advanced prostate cancer that is probably the result of his exposure to Agent Orange in Viet Nam. When it rains it pours, but this woman is going to figure out a way to find a rainbow somewhere in this pile of stress!


LillyShayStyle said...

I pray your grandbaby is well and its just a flash gone wrong.
I also heard this story on CafeMom,(Thank God for that woman and her traveling story). I'm very observative of photos now. :)

Elizabeth said...

I had actually heard about this before, like a few years ago. There are so many rare/uncommon health related diseases out there - it never hurts to be careful!

twostraycats said...

Prayers sent out for you, your daughter and her little one
May all be well

Thank you for taking the time to post this

Baroness Bijoutery said...

Thank you for posting this..hopefully it will reach lots and lots of mothers...You can never take anything for granted in this life..your daughter is so wise to be so aware..I will keep you, your daughter and granddaughter in my prayers...

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