From Trinidad and Tobago to Utah, a Young Patient Finds Sight-Saving Care Just in Time

Mar 04, 2019 9:45 AM

Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD, holds a favorite photo of Aidan and his family.
Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD, holds a favorite photo of Aidan and his family.

When Neil and Maleena Sookram made their first journey from Trinidad and Tobago to the John A. Moran Eye Center with their son Aidan, they felt hope and trepidation.

It was 2015, and Aidan was just a year old. Born at 28 weeks, weighing barely over two pounds, he had spent 48 days in a neonatal intensive care unit. At four months, his parents noticed he was not following moving objects or reaching for things as an infant with normal vision should. A local doctor confirmed that Aidan had retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)—a potentially blinding disorder involving abnormal blood vessel growth that affects premature infants.

Aidan’s ROP was becoming more severe, but the delicate surgical and laser treatments that could possibly save his vision weren’t available in Trinidad and Tobago. Physicians referred the family to Moran’s pediatric retinal specialist, Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, MD.

Aidan's recent school photo.
Aidan's recent school photo.

Preserving 'Future Vision'

“As two people going from a tiny Caribbean island to Utah with our new baby, it was hard,” recalled Aidan’s dad. “But through it all, everyone at Moran went out of their way to help us.”

Aidan had late-stage ROP in both eyes, with partial retinal detachments.

“The right eye was worse, and I needed to perform surgery,” said Hartnett, not only a talented surgeon but also a leading ROP researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health. “My concern was for his future vision, so I was glad the Sookrams were willing to come back for follow-up.”

Aidan has returned to Moran three times. In 2016, his vision was holding steady; but in 2017, he had a major retinal detachment in his right eye and underwent more sight-saving surgery. When he came back in March 2018, he saw his very first snow and Hartnett saw a marked improvement.

Today, Aidan wears glasses for myopia (so he can focus close up). His dad reports he’s in school, learning his ABCs, drawing, and riding his bike.

“We always hope that children with ROP get care in time,” said Hartnett. “They may not get 20/20 vision, but the vision we are able to save is priceless.”

vision research patient care retinopathy of prematurity