A 6-month-old girl’s rare retinal cancer was misdiagnosed as eczema by doctors – and her eye was eventually removed.
Katherine O’Neill, 42, noted her daughter Amelia has been rubbing her left eye since she was born in September 2020.
“I was first advised by the Health Advisor to put breast milk on it,” O’Neill told the South West News Service. “She passed her newborn’s eye test and I was told the redness could be eczema.”
Amelia is a twin sister and was born prematurely, causing her to have numerous doctor’s appointments, at which O’Neill kept mentioning her habit of rubbing her eyes.
During her 12-week evaluation, a medical professional even suspected that the redness could be a mole.
But when the British toddler was six months old in March 2021, her grandmother noticed her eye looked unusual as she sat in her high chair at dinner.
“I hadn’t noticed the actual eye before, but under the headlights in the kitchen you could see it was sticking out and looked kind of dead,” O’Neill said.
The next morning, O’Neill called the doctor, who saw Amelia that same day.
“The family doctor examined the eye and illuminated it,” O’Neill recalls. “She was quick to tell me it could be either a cataract or a very rare cancer called retinoblastoma, but she thought it was the latter.”
Amelia was soon diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer that forms in the tissues of the retina, per the National Cancer Institute. A grade E tumor was found in her left eye.
Richard Ashton, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, told SWNS that one baby or child is diagnosed with retinoblastoma every week in the UK.
The condition can be difficult to diagnose, he added.
O’Neill admitted she was “devastated” by her daughter’s diagnosis and found it difficult to tell her family.
Amelia underwent six rounds of chemotherapy between March and August 2021.
“I slept in the bed next to her. It was connected to wires and it was awful to look at,” O’Neill told SWNS.
“The next morning she looked very pale and when she woke up she was throwing up,” the mother said. “It made her very sleepy and sick.”
The tumor shrank, but the cancer eventually started growing again, which meant Amelia needed four chemotherapy injections in her eye.
It was then that O’Neill made the decision to have her daughter’s left eye removed completely – and now the little girl is doing “amazing”.
“We found that her eye didn’t look like her eye anymore and she couldn’t see out of it anymore. If she had a prosthetic eye, at least the cancer could be removed,” she argued.
Amelia’s left eye was removed in December 2021 and is now doing well with a prosthetic eye.
Her mother describes her as a “superstar” who enjoys watching Peppa Pig, making new friends, spending time with her grandmother, going to the park and helping out in the kitchen.