Community Rallies Around Baby Born Without Eyes

Emotional Roller Coaster

The couple found out New Year's Eve they were going to have their first child. Although they were hundreds of miles away from their immediate families in St. Louis, the Wildschuetzes said they were ready to start their new lives with their new baby.

"It's kind of that range, I think, of happiness to, 'all right, are we ready for this,'" Mike Wildschuetz said of the transition. "It's kind of a little bit of everything, a little shock, a little awe -- overall, a good feeling."

Although his wife experienced some complications, such as spotting and cramping, she said things were going pretty smoothly up until April 14.

Twenty weeks into the pregnancy, a routine ultrasound check alarmed her doctor. She returned to his office immediately, where he informed her of Faith's condition.

"I think initially you go through a grieving period," she said. "I tried to stay strong as long as I could just to find out, OK, what's our best case, what's our worst case scenarios here, because at that point, we had no idea if it was just her eyes or if it was much more going on."

Despite being fully aware of Faith's visual impairment, she said, nothing could have prepared the couple for the emotional roller coaster that ensued after she was born Sept. 10.

Doctors admitted Faith into the neonatal intensive care unit to help regulate her breathing and facilitate her feeding. With the Wildschuetzes in and out of the hospital, the uncertainty of Faith's future took its toll.

Baby Faith Born Without Eyes

"It's just hard," Bridget said. "It's like sometimes we would take one step forward and instead of taking two steps back, sometimes it was like 20 steps back."

After nearly a month in the hospital, Faith was able to go home Oct. 7, allowing the Wildschuetzes to finally care for their newborn.

"It's great to be home," Mike said. "People are finally getting to come by and see her. I'd much rather be here than anywhere else."

While there is still no definitive cause for microphthalmia, researchers have linked the eye condition to chromosomal disorders and single-gene disorders, as well as certain environmental causes, such as exposure to rubella, retinoic acid or alcohol.

Chromosomal disorders occur when an individual has extra, missing, or rearranged chromosomes, the strands of DNA in every cell that carry our genetic information. With single-gene disorders, a mutation in one of the genes may lead to various birth defects.

The International Children's Anophthalmia and Microphthalmia Network reports that nearly 15 percent of all bilateral microphthalmia cases can be attributed to the mutation of one particular gene, the SOX2 gene.

"Even though something is genetic, it doesn't mean it's inherent," said Tanya Bardakjian, genetic counselor and coordinator of a clinical research program at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pa. "In most cases, it's sporadic, and it just happened for the first time in that child."

In Faith's case, there is no history of microphthalmia in either parent's family. So, the Wildschuetzes have decided to take part in Bardakjian's research project, with the goal to find the true underlining cause for the particular eye disorder.

Baby Faith will join more than 350 other cases that are clinically registered, 125 of which have already submitted DNA samples for testing. So far, Bardakjian said, they have been able to determine the underlining cause in 25 percent of the cases.

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