Brown and Dennis Kohler with their children, Karissa, Isabella
The eyes are the
window to the soul, they say, but what happens when those windows are
faulty in some way?
Parents such as
Patrick Brown and Carmen Gely have lived through the uncertainty of
having children with serious eye issues.
have misaligned eyes, so-called lazy eye and even cataracts. While
some conditions are quite rare, others are not — an estimated
one-third of babies have a blockage in the tear duct system.
percent of what children learn in the early years is visual,"
making eye problems a big concern in a child’s development,
according to Dr. Karen S. Shimshak, an eye physician and surgeon who
practices in Glendale and Milwaukee.
Brown is the
father of triplets — Karissa, Isabella and Derek — who were born
so early (25 weeks) that blood vessels in each baby’s retinas were
abnormally developed. The children were closely monitored, and both
girls eventually needed eye surgery.
Most times, the
condition, known as retinopathy of prematurity, resolves itself. In
other cases, it can be devastating causing a detached retina and
sometimes blindness — which is what led to singer Stevie Wonder
losing his eyesight as an infant.
birth weight of Brown’s triplets was less than 5 pounds. No surprise
then that they experienced a variety of medical problems. Isabella
even needed open-heart surgery.
It was a lot for
Brown and his partner, Dennis Kohler, to absorb.
doctors were really good at not overloading us," says Brown.
"They’d tell us about the things that might happen in the next
week or two, but they didn’t tell us, ‘chances are, one or two of
your kids might be blind.’"
Now 9 years old,
all three children wear glasses — Karissa for reading and Derek to
correct his distance vision. Isabella has about 20/80 acuity in one
eye and 20/200 in the other; besides wearing glasses, she uses an
electronic print magnifier and special lighting to help with
schoolwork. The family, which lives in Germantown, is active in
sports, scouts and Irish dancing.
daughter, Aviana Rodriguez, had surgery last spring for a misaligned
eye; the medical term is strabismus, but most people would call it
crossed eyes. For the eyes to see three-dimensionally, they need to
have similar vision and focusing ability. Some children need only
glasses or a temporary eye patch to correct the problem.
are often the first people to notice a child has crossed or wandering
eyes," says Dr. Brett Rhode, ophthalmologist at Eye Care
Specialists’ West Allis and downtown Milwaukee clinics and head of
ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. "It’s best to
follow your instincts if you think something isn’t right. Schedule a
comprehensive dilated eye exam with an eye care specialist as soon as
Aviana has had
surgery twice — at age 2 to relax one muscle in each eye, and again
on her right eye in April just shy of her fourth birthday. Rhode, who
performed the surgeries, says her prognosis is excellent.
I did it," adds Gely, who lives in Cudahy. Aviana’s eyes are
aligned, her vision is normal, and she’s an active kid who likes
commonly called lazy eye, is another concern that should be addressed.
When the eyes don’t see equally, the weaker eye essentially shuts
down to avoid double vision. Screenings at day care centers and
preschools often reveal the problem.
3-year-olds don’t comprehend what’s being asked of them, or are
too shy to perform," notes Dr. Mark S. Ruttum, a pediatric
ophthalmologist and medical director of ophthalmology at Children’s
Hospital of Wisconsin. "When they’re 4, they’re still at a
good age for appropriate treatment, whether that be glasses or
eye care for children not just because his own kids had problems.
Professionally, he is executive director of Vision Forward
Association, a Milwaukee-based agency providing specialized services
and programs to people of all ages and at all stages of vision loss.
need as much support as their children in order to be good parents and
to deal with the emotional grief they might have," he says.