Early screen­ing urged to pre­vent vi­sion loss as chil­dren go un­treated

Eye prob­lems in Hamil­ton young­sters slip­ping un­der radar, study shows — and fast ac­tion is cru­cial, ex­pert says

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNA FRKETICH

More than 80 per cent of Hamil­ton chil­dren need­ing glasses don’t have them be­cause no one knows they have a vi­sion prob­lem.

That’s the find­ing of a study high­light­ing the need for kids to be screened.

The sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of un­treated chil­dren have driven Hamil­ton pe­di­atric oph­thal­mol­o­gist Dr. Kourosh Sabri to re­search the best and most cost-ef­fec­tive way to bring free eye tests to schools.

“If you don’t screen chil­dren in time, they can end up with per­ma­nent vi­sion loss and, un­for­tu­nately, I see that in my clinic ev­ery day,” said Sabri.

“Only about 15 to 16 per cent of chil­dren un­der the age of six in Canada ac­tu­ally have had an eye exam and ideally they all should.”

Dr. Shamir Me­hta can at­test first­hand to the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing a vi­sion screen­ing pro­gram in Hamil­ton that could be copied around the prov­ince. The Hamil­ton car­di­ol­o­gist had no idea his sev­enyear-old child was blind in one eye and the win­dow to re­pair it was rapidly clos­ing.

“We were shocked,” he said. “It

was just a rou­tine eye exam that we took him for, just for the sake of do­ing it … At first, it was dis­be­lief. How could that be the case?”

Key­van Me­hta-Owens never com­plained about his sight and had no signs of a vi­sion prob­lem. He played sports and did well in school. An eye exam didn’t seem a pri­or­ity and was never rec­om­mended by his family doc­tor.

“No­body alerted us to the fact that your child’s eyes should be checked when they’re very young,” said Me­hta. “I’m a physi­cian … I didn’t know.”

Sabri said vi­sion is­sues are com­monly missed be­cause the kids ap­pear healthy.

“Chil­dren born that way don’t know the dif­fer­ence,” said Me­hta. “The child will never tell you ‘My vi­sion is off.’ They think every­one sees the way they see.”

The over­sight al­most cost Key­van the vi­sion in one eye. A small dif­fer­ence be­tween his eyes at birth re­sulted in his brain only pro­cess­ing sig­nals from one eye. As his brain grew, only the good eye de­vel­oped. The fix is easy: patch the good eye so the brain is forced to process sig­nals from the other eye.

“This is a re­versible con­di­tion and if it’s caught, your kid will have nor­mal eyes,” said Me­hta. But as kids age and their brains de­velop, “there is a point of no re­turn.”

It can be­come ir­re­versible by the ages of roughly eight to 10, so Key­van was close to the line when it was dis­cov­ered at age seven. He’s now 10 and has nearly per­fect vi­sion.

“We’re lucky,” said Me­hta. “My mes­sage would be to get your chil­dren’s eyes checked at an early age.”

The EYE-MAC Project has been try­ing to de­ter­mine the best way to screen kids for the last three years with fund­ing from the prov­ince and the Hamil­ton Aca­demic Health Sciences Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Its first study of 1,228 Hamil­ton chil­dren be­tween the ages of six and 14 pub­lished a year ago in the Cana­dian Jour­nal of Oph­thal­mol­ogy proved the need.

More than 16 per cent of chil­dren screened were found to have a vi­sion prob­lem. Only 18 per cent of those need­ing glasses ac­tu­ally had them.

The study also ex­am­ined the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing screen­ing more ac­ces­si­ble and cost-ef­fec­tive by train­ing med­i­cal stu­dents to do the ini­tial tests.

“Non-eye-care pro­fes­sion­als can be trained to an ac­cept­able de­gree of ac­cu­racy to per­form cer­tain vi­sion screen­ing tests on chil­dren,” con­cluded the study.

The on­go­ing re­search has now pro­vided screen­ing to 39 Hamil­ton Catholic el­e­men­tary schools.

The pro­gram has also done screen­ing for the Hamil­ton Went­worth Dis­trict School Board.

“Vi­sion is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to stu­dent achieve­ment and stu­dent suc­cess,” said Toni Ko­vach, su­per­in­ten­dent of ed­u­ca­tion at the Hamil­ton-Went­worth Catholic Dis­trict School Board, adding “early de­tec­tion is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.”

Ko­vach noted the “deep grat­i­tude” the board has for Sabri and his team “be­cause they re­ally are mak­ing such a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.”

The EYE-MAC Project is next hop­ing to look at the dif­fer­ence it makes to take the eye-tests out of class­rooms and onto a fully equipped van that would travel from school to school.

It is look­ing to raise $400,000 for the van and equip­ment, start­ing with an in­for­ma­tion event Fri­day from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Zoetic Theatre at 526 Con­ces­sion St. Donors can also go to mcperg.ca/do­nate/

“The re­al­ity is all chil­dren should have reg­u­lar vi­sion screen­ing but most of them don’t,” said Sabri.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Dr. Kourosh Sabri uses a split lamp mi­cro­scope to check Key­van Me­hta-Owens’ eye at McMaster Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal Wed­nes­day. The 10-year-old was di­ag­nosed with a blind eye at seven, but the early di­ag­no­sis al­lowed him to re­gain his sight be­fore it was too late.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Dr. Kourosh Sabri ex­am­ines Key­van Me­hta-Owens’ eye at McMaster Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

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