The primary task for “pre-mature” babies isn’t to discern shapes or faces, of course, but to survive their precarious fragility and the host of problems that can accompany it. Often, though, some of those problems affect their eyes—causing critical conditions like congenital cataracts, myopia, corneal disorders, or retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Then doctors must respond quickly in order to save the child’s vulnerable sight.
For these too-early babies whose vision is endangered, however, a timely and successful operation is only half the battle. The eyes must now develop properly; the brain must establish its connection to the eye; the eyes must be able to focus correctly on the retina. And the only way to help those processes along is to fit the child with corrective lenses, either eyeglasses or contacts.
After a premature infant receives major treatment such as a corneal transplant, cataract surgery; or retinal procedure for ROP, corrective eyewear is not only essential, but ongoing. Without early and continued optical correction, vision will not develop, and the child will become blind.
Born two months early, weighing only 1 lb. 9 oz., tiny Princess Harris was immediately besieged with health risks: three surgeries, a staph infection, and influenza, to name just a few. Examining Princess, Emory Eye Center’s pediatric ophthalmologist Scott Lambert also diagnosed “accommodative esotropia,” an inward turning of the eye that causes the eyes to cross. For this condition, there’s a proven treatment: eyeglasses.
Princess needed glasses right away. What many people don’t realize is that for a baby whose eyes are developing and growing so rapidly, the initial pair of glasses is just that: initial. Within a few weeks, Princess had to come in for a prescription review. A few weeks after that, she was due back again. A few weeks further on, another trip to the Eye Center. And every time her exam indicates a change in her eyes, she has to have new glasses.
The process contains another hitch as well. To avoid the risk of eventual blindness, babies with serious eye problems should start wearing the lenses without delay. That’s easier said than done. Like Princess, most pediatric patients depend on Medicaid, which pays for only one set of corrective lenses per year. Delivery of an eyeglass order can take as long as six weeks; and the glasses, once received, often arrive with incorrectly sized frames.
The Eye Center has taken decisive steps help families caught in this situation. We offer the lenses at cost and do not seek a profit. We work closely with the Georgia Lions Lighthouse, which provides limited supplemental funds. For our most critical cases, we’ve established our “source of last resort,” the Children’s Eyeglass Fund. Thanks to our donors, this source helps—but we are seeing more and more premature infants whose eyes urgently require correction, and the need is always greater than our ability to meet it.
When Princess finally went home from her long stay at the hospital, she was wearing her new eyeglasses. Her mom, Laquisha Harris, now says proudly, “She’s very strong and very smart, and she notices everything—especially people.”
Noticing people is something Emory Eye Center does well, too. And whenever we notice a vision problem—in even the tiniest person—we do everything in our power to relieve it.
Copyright © Emory Eye Center - All Rights Reserved | The Emory Clinic Building B, 1365B Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30322 USA