Saving a Newborn from a Life Without Sight

Thursday, Nov 13 2014

“He was two and a half months old when I saw him for the first time,” said Hadassah Medical Organization Pediatric Ophthalmologist Dr. Irene Anteby about the East Jerusalem baby who was assumed to be blind. Dr. Anteby, however, realized he wasn’t reacting to light because dense cataracts were blocking his vision.

“Most people think of cataracts as something that happens to old people, but sometimes babies are born with them,” Dr. Anteby says. “You have to act quickly because a baby has to develop vision early or he will be blind.” She further explains: When a baby’s cataract is left untreated, the cloudy lens blocks light from getting to the retina and it can’t send visual information to the brain at a crucial time when the eye and brain are working together to “learn” to see. If the cataract isn’t removed in time, the brain may never learn to see.

The child of parents who were cousins, this baby suffered from a rare immune deficiency, which left him with not only a suppressed immune system, but also a low blood count and dangerous virus called CMV.

“I saw him on Thursday afternoon and on Monday, we scheduled surgery,” Dr. Anteby relates. “Usually in such a case, you do one eye at a time. But we knew with this very sick baby, we had one shot, so we decided to implant intraocular lenses in both eyes in one surgery.”

Complicating the chances for success was the fact that Dr. Anteby had to predict the growth of the baby’s eye in order to customize the lens to serve him throughout adulthood. As the baby grows, she notes, “there will be changes in the refraction all the time.”

“Everything went perfectly,” Dr. Anteby recalls. All that remained was to fit the baby with tiny frames. Since the surgery was covered by the family’s health fund, but the glasses were not, Dr. Anteby took it upon herself to approach shops in Jerusalem and ask them to donate the expensive frames. Good-hearted businessmen obliged and now the baby can see the world around him.

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