Saving Baby's Sight: 8 Month Old Diagnosed With Cataracts

Baby Carter Moll's struggle with infant cataracts is not rare, doctors say.

ByABC News
October 26, 2009, 2:09 PM

Nov. 2, 2009— -- At seven months, Carter Moll liked to be held close to his parents' cheeks. He liked to feel their warm breath and their features as he ran both of his hands down their faces.

"It reminded us of something a blind person would do," said Carter's mother, Susannah Moll, of Madison, Wisc.

A routine well-baby exam when Carter was born showed normal development of his vision. But then Moll noticed that her baby's left eye began turning inward. She took Carter to his pediatrician, who in turn referred him to an ophthalmologist.

What the opthalmologist found was something that would be startling to most -- Carter had cataracts in both eyes.

Cataracts -- a clouding in the lenses of the eyes -- are a condition more often associated with older Americans or aging pets than with babies.

"They were very subtle so [the doctor] didn't see it was that big of a problem," said Moll. "He said surgery needed to be done, but I didn't know how soon."

That was last month. But within just a few weeks of his diagnosis, Moll noticed that Carter's left pupil was spotted by white clouds. And after a few days his right eye also developed milky white spots. And less than one month from his diagnosis, Carter underwent two surgeries to remove the cataracts from his eyes.

"The thing that's special about Carter is how rapidly his vision deteriorated," said Dr. Michael Struck, Carter's ophthalmologist at the University of Wisconsin. "The only thing he could tell was whether it was day or night; he couldn't see anything else."

Struck said all babies are born with poor vision, and they learn to see when images are sent to the retina, located on the back of the eye. When the retina is not receiving images, the optic nerve is unable to send signals to the brain and the nerve starts to degenerate, he said.

"If you never had hearing, you can't learn to speak," he said. "Well, it's the same for eyes, without the image being presented to the eyes, your vision does not develop."

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.

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."