Word Count: 500
It Will Be OK
By Peg Scarano
We had just learned Emily had permanent vision loss in her left eye. But this amazing 14-year-old said to her mother, “It will be OK, mom.” Little did we know there was still more news to come.
After Emily calmed me down, the good doctor told us there was more we needed to know and he began explaining the phenomenon known as sympathetic ophthalmia. In quick layman’s terms this is when the good eye senses the traumatized eye and in “sympathy”, the good eye goes blind as well. The occurrence of this is rare, but it can happen any time during the lifetime of the victim. The only thing to 100% prevent this from happening is to remove the damaged eye within 14 days of the initial trauma.
Oh my God. We spent the next five days making appointments and traveling from Albany to Buffalo seeking the advice of ophthalmologists. I had several conversations with doctors I knew personally and professionally at the hospital. We also called several specialists in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. After being assured by all but one specialist, that Sympathetic Ophthalmia is indeed very rare, we still thought the best decision was to make an appointment with the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia to have Emily’s traumatized eye removed as soon as possible – the 14 days were running out.
Relieved that we had finally made a decision, we discussed our conclusion with Emily, who still had not shed a tear over this devastating event in her life. Stoic as ever, she said, “OK.”
Around midnight, Emily came into our room sobbing, waking us up from a sound sleep. “Emily, what’s the matter?” I exclaimed. Between sobs and hiccups, she finally managed to explain her thoughts. “I don’t want to take my eye out! I’m only fourteen. Technology is changing all of the time. Maybe someday they can fix my retina and optic nerve. Please, don’t make me take my eye out!”
We were dumbfounded and at a loss. Our turmoil returned with a vengeance. What should we do? If we do not have the surgery and she someday loses the sight in her good eye – how do we live with that as parents? If we go ahead with the surgery, against Emily’s wishes, how will that affect her as an adolescent and later on, as an adult? Will she resent us and our decision? Will she become defiant, lose interest in school and friends or turn to other means of rebellion?
After a long, soul-searching night, we decided to cancel the surgery. We thought of Emily’s strength and courage throughout the last ten days. Her positive attitude and sense of humor never faltered. We chose to support our daughter and her decision and have never looked back. She is now 28 years old, successful in her career and personal life. She is happy and we have a relationship I treasure more than life itself. I have to believe we made the right decision – together.
(See below for a professional description of Sympathetic Ophthalmia)
Professional Description of Sympathetic Ophthalmia
When there is significant damage to an eye, bits of eye tissue can be absorbed into the blood stream. This causes the body to create anti-bodies to get rid of that tissue (because it is foreign to the blood). It is possible that these antibodies could make their way to the good eye (at any point in life), and start attacking the eye tissue (as they were created to do), which could lead to blindness. The only way to 100% prevent that from happening is to remove the bad eye and all the damaged tissue before it has a chance to be absorbed into the blood stream.
With today’s advancements, ophthalmologists can repair damaged eyes much better than they used to, so they can reduce the amount of damaged tissue that could potentially be absorbed into the blood stream; which is why Sympathetic Ophthalmia is much rarer today than years ago when more primitive surgeries did not repair the damage.