Friday, September 14, 2012

Sarah's story - How life threatening diseases can lurk in a child's eyes - take them to the optometrist - its free for goodness sake!

Sarah Slingsby of Missisauga, Ontario can't enjoy a 3D movie like other kids. She can't see 3D because her eyes can't focus together because of retinoblastoma - an eye cancer - and other complications with her sight.

Sarah, now eleven, and her mother Leslie have teamed up with the Eye See…Eye Learn® program and the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) to help raise awareness of the importance of children having comprehensive eye exams before they begin school. The OAO is running a one minute commercial on selected Cineplex screens in Ontario to share Sarah's story. Sarah was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening retinoblastoma by her Mississauga optometrist.

Sarah's mom took her for a routine eye exam at age eight after her optometrist recommended she have one. Leslie had no warning signs that anything was wrong. Sarah thought she was seeing "normal".

"I was in shock when Dr. Chan told me the news. I didn't even think she had a vision problem, let alone cancer," says Leslie. "Her optometrist probably saved her life. Fortunately in Sarah's case she has a slow growing tumour. Retinoblastoma is rare but is normally found in infants and toddlers.

"We want parents to make a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist an automatic part of a child's overall readiness for school, just like dental check ups and immunizations," says Dr Chan. "Though the likelihood of cancer is rare, optometrists diagnose thousands of cases of undetected vision problems and other sight threatening conditions such as ambloypia or 'lazy eye' every day."

Despite the dangers of ignoring your child's eye health, 75 per cent of children between the ages of five and nine have not had their eyes examined by a Doctor of Optometry and a staggering 93 per cent of all children under the age of five have never been tested. This tragedy persists despite the fact that annual eye examinations are covered by government health insurance in Canada. How many children will have their lives ruined by undiagnosed and untreated vision problems? To learn about who childhood vision disorders lead to real adult problems, click here.

To encourage more families to have their children's eyes examined, the OAO has partnered with the Ontario Government on the Eye See…Eye Learn® program. Currently Junior Kindergarten children in nine Ontario school regions are eligible to participate in the free program that encourages parents to book a comprehensive eye exam with a participating Doctor of Optometry for their JK child. If the child requires glasses, they will receive a pair of high quality, impact resistant and UV protected glasses free of charge courtesy of ESEL partners Jungle Eyewear® and Hoya Vision Care. The program is expanding across the province over the next four years.

Kudos to Sarah, the OAO and the government of Ontario. It seems like they have come up with what could be an effective education campaign backed up with solid treatment to keep the children of that province healthy. Is it time for other jurisdictions to follow Ontario's lead?