Article Date: 2/1/2009

Optometry's Grace
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Optometry's Grace

If not for an AOA public health program, an infant girl may have lost her life.

SCOTT A. JENS, O.D., F.A.A.O. MIDDLETON, WISC.

It was a routine day in the clinic in July 2006. That is, until I retreated to my office and opened the most compelling and touching e-mail I'll probably ever receive.

Voice mail tale

Attached to the e-mail was an audio file from the American Optometric Association's (AOA) voice mail system. In it, a woman named Stacey Zellers explained that she was calling to thank the AOA for establishing the InfantSEE program, as she believed it had saved her six-month old daughter's life. She explained that a couple days prior to this phone call, Grace, her daughter, underwent enucleation of the left eye.

InfantSEE, now in its fourth year, was conceptualized by the late W. David Sullins, O.D. Dr. Sullins, a former AOA president, urged optometry to take the lead in protecting the visual welfare of America's children by performing one comprehensive and vision assessment on infants between the ages of six and 12 months at no cost to the family or their health insurance. I had the privilege of receiving Ms. Zeller's message because I was part of the team of O.D. volunteers who helped the AOA launch InfantSEE as its flagship public health program.

Grace Zellers, now age three

A lurking mass

In hopes of hearing Ms. Zellers' remarkable story in its entirety, through my welled-up tears I directed my shaking fingers to my phone to dial her number. She explained that while pregnant, she saw a TV segment about InfantSEE, and when Grace arrived, visited the program's Web site (www.infantsee.com) to find a participating optometrist — one of more than seven thousand.

Ms. Zellers said that when she and her husband presented to the optometrist with Grace, their baby daughter's eyes and vision appeared normal. The optometrist agreed with this observation until the end of the exam when dilated binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy (BIO) revealed a white posterior pole mass O.S. Although the optometrist explained that the mass could be a chorioretinal coloboma, and not cancer, Ms. Zellers said her motherly instincts told her something was gravely wrong. (As an interesting side note, Grace was this optometrist's first InfantSEE patient!)

A retinoblastoma specialist to whom the optometrist had immediately referred the Zellers family said the best option for Grace was enucleation. After she removed the eye, a biopsy confirmed cancer. Because the InfantSEE optometrist had caught the cancer in its earliest stages, however, it thankfully hadn't spread throughout the infant girl's body.

Since that e-mail-prompted phone call in 2006, I've continued to keep in touch with the Zellers family. I'm thrilled to report that today Grace is a happy, healthy three-year-old, who looks great with her prosthetic left eye and pink safety glasses. Ms. Zellers is optometry's biggest fan, knowing that InfantSEE found a fatal disease in her precious daughter and that optometrists have the skills needed to assess developmental concerns, such as amblyopia.

If you participate in InfantSEE, thank you. If you don't, please consider doing so. You'll not only make a positive impact on the visual development of a baby, but also continue to show the public that optometrists are true public health advocates who do much more than spin lenses. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 628-6595, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2009