When I was pregnant with my now ten-year-old, because I was considered “mature maternal age,” there was a chance that she could be born with some developmental delays. Though I was only mildly concerned about what that might mean (I’d waited for this baby and would be thrilled with her regardless), I was also thankful when she was born without a trace of one of the possibilities that had been mentioned. Despite her perfect Apgar score, I noticed almost immediately that when her eyes were open, the right one seemed to drift inward.
For the first five years, I’d ask people, including her pediatrician, if they saw what I saw. I usually got a mild humored, “She’s fine.” That is, until during her five-year-old well check. The doctor finally seemed to acknowledge that drift and wrote out a referral for Cincinnati Children’s Opthamology.
I’d watched that slight drift – which at times had been pronounced enough for Liv to appear cross-eyed, all of her life – yet somehow I still wasn’t prepared to hear the diagnosis we received after hours of testing that left Liv nearly hysterical: accommodative esotropia, hyeropia, regular astigmatism and strabismic amblyopia. In laymen’s terms, my daughter was almost blind in one eye and severely vision impaired in the other. Hence her strong reaction to the tests – when they’d blinded her good eye, she literally couldn’t see at all. As if the diagnosis wasn’t bad enough, the implications left me shaken. If her good eye were ever damaged, she could be rendered completely blind. She may never drive, be eligible for corrective surgery or even contact lenses.
Reeling from shock at the enormity of the situation, I had to bite back the “I knew it!” I wanted to hurl at the doctor. But Liv’s doctor hadn’t been part of the problem and was now outlining the solution. For the next five years we needed to take advantage of the window of opportunity available and treat Liv’s issues aggressively. She would wear bifocal lenses, patch daily and use a drop in the good eye that would force the “lazy” eye to work, thus strengthening it.
The day that Liv got her glasses, it tore my heart in two to look in the rearview mirror and see her with bottle cap lens glasses dwarfing her tiny face and to hear her marvel, “Mommy, did you know the leaves have different shapes?” Oh, my. Up until that moment, my child had only viewed the leaves on trees as bunches of green. Believe me, the bottle caps lenses took on a beauty I never would have imagined.
I wish I could say we patched and did the drops with complete consistency for five straight years, but I have to be honest and admit that consistency was a struggle. Liv hated the patch because it not only caused her not to be able to see, it made her feel bad on several levels. The drops were no better. They rendered her blind in one eye and they hurt. So we played pirates, let her brother patch, did charts and stickers, then rewards, etc. In short, we did the best we could. Thankfully, every time I took Liv in for a follow up, her doctor was pleasantly surprised with her progress.
Last month, Liv had her tenth birthday. For me, it was bittersweet. Double digits. And it meant that five year window was closed. With as much trepidation as I felt the day I took her to Children’s for that first visit, I took her in this week for the final results of our efforts. And learned they were miraculous! At the beginning of treatment, the doctor thought the best we could hope for would be 50/20, but that was being optimistic. Today, Liv is at 30/20! Thanks to early intervention and a doctor who partnered with a parent who knew her child, Liv’s window is wide open, providing her vision for the future.