It is often difficult to spot cataracts or other vision-related problems in babies because they cannot speak yet, and, if they are born with poor vision, they are unable to tell the difference between their vision and what normal should be.
Struck said that in children, the earliest symptom of cataracts is if a child's eyes are not aligned, or a child is unable to use both eyes to see straight. These signs often appear before the telltale white spots on a child's pupil.
"One of the ways that most people come in is when they notice their baby's eyes are not straight in photographs," Struck said. "Even if they don't see it when they look at the baby, they see it in photographs."
Well-baby exams in the first few months of life often reveal if a child is born with an eye condition such as cataracts. But for Carter, since the cataracts developed after he was born, his eyes appeared normal at his first screening, said Moll.
"When Carter first came in at seven months, he had signs of cataracts that only a doctor could see," Struck said. "By the time you are able to see the white clouds, it's an emergency."
Experts recommend children undergo a professional eye examination at age six months, 3 years and 5 years, according to the nonprofit organization Prevent Blindness America.
But many experts say that more frequent screenings may allow for earlier detection of severe eye conditions, and more effective treatment to prevent blindness.
"Delay in diagnosis is our biggest problem in fixing [eye problems in children]," Struck said. "Despite the surgery being possible, the vision recovery is impaired by the length of time and delay in diagnosis."
For infants with cataracts, surgery is often the only option to restore vision. Cataract surgery can be performed on infants as young as four weeks of age. But while surgery for adult cataracts immediately restores vision, children oftentimes need contact lenses to save their sight, Kazlas said. Sometimes doctors patch the dominant eye, or the eye without the cataract, to give the impaired eye time to improve, she sad.
"To be able to turn things around for him one month from having no visual problems, and then going blind, and then one month later having a procedure restoring his sight, is remarkable," Struck said.
Also, although Carter's cataracts have been removed and he is now able to see, it does not necessarily mean that he is clear of other possible vision problems, according to Dr. Kazlas. In fact, she said, glaucoma after cataract surgery is seen in up to 40 percent of children.
"Whether it's weeks down the line or even if it's years down the line, the possibility is there, so it needs to be monitored," Kazlas said.
Carter is still undergoing testing to determine the cause of his cataracts. Although he is now able to focus on nearby objects with his new lens implants, Moll said her son is considered legally blind for his distance vision and wears glasses to help him see objects that are far away.
But while treatment is ongoing for Carter, and he still needs to have frequent follow-up eye-care appointments, Moll says she is amazed that Carter's vision improved as quickly as it deteriorated.
"Even though he's done really well with it all, no parent wants their child to go through [surgery]," Moll said. "[Before surgery] Carter, you could tell, was really frustrated because he couldn't see, but now it's made a world of difference."