White spots in children’s eyes in photographs may indicate a rare form of childhood cancer.
Mother Natasha Mead is raising awareness of the phenomenon after her daughter Ella Sala was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, Hull Live reports.
Natasha and her partner Ben Sala noticed the dots and a peculiar glow in their daughter’s eyes in photos they’d taken of her. This, coupled with Ella having trouble eating and having trouble using a spoon, led them to have her checked out by doctors.
Their action led to Ella’s quick diagnosis, and mother Natasha now encourages other parents not to be ashamed to seek medical advice if they notice something isn’t quite right with their children.
She told Hull Live: “Ella is our first child so we didn’t know what was unusual or not. My partner noticed that Ella was a little angry.
“She was also quite advanced, but we noticed she was having trouble using a spoon. I had to go back to work early because of the pandemic so we sent Ella to the nursery and the staff there also noticed she was struggling to eat.
“At first we thought she was just a baby, but we were advised to have her examined.
“Doctors immediately recognized that something wasn’t right and she was seen by a specialist and diagnosed with retinoblastoma.”
Ella Sala with father Ben (Image: Hull Live)
The rare condition, which affects around 44 children in the UK each year, occurs when nerve cells in the retina develop genetic mutations that keep the cells growing and multiplying when healthy cells would die. The build-up of cells forms a tumor.
Tragically for Ella, tumors had developed behind both her eyes, causing her retinas to peel off. She has lost all vision in her left eye and has little in her right.
About 40 percent of retinoblastoma cases are diagnosed in the first year of life. Natasha told Hull Live that identifying the condition quickly can be crucial and that photos can give parents early clues.
She said: “There is a phrase ‘know the glow’ that emphasizes that the white spot on children’s eyes in photos can be a sign of cancer.
“Phone cameras don’t really use flash, but it’s important to know.
“Since her diagnosis, we have come across photos taken when she was about six months old and the glow in her eyes is visible to all.
“It’s such a terrible feeling to know that these photos existed, but we didn’t know she has been battling this terrible disease for so long.
“I just think other parents should be aware and not be ashamed of seeking help. If it turns out to be nothing, no one will laugh at you.”
Ella Sala is battling the rare cancer retinoblastioma (Image: Hull Live)
Ella, who has to see a specialist in Birmingham for checkups every month, is now 18 months old and has completed her first round of chemotherapy.
“She may need even more chemo in smaller doses, while also getting laser treatment and cryotherapy that liquefy the tumor cells,” explains Natasha.
“The tumors cannot be removed because they are too close to the retina.”
Ella has had numerous MRI scans to make sure the retinoblastoma hasn’t invaded her optic nerves or spread from her eyes to elsewhere in her body.
Retinoblastoma tends to affect very young children, but its effects continue into adulthood.
Natasha said, “Ella’s tumors have shrunk tremendously thanks to the chemotherapy,” Natasha said, “but unfortunately she’s still not cancer-free.
“The cancer is due to a faulty gene which could be hereditary, but both me and Ben have been tested and we don’t have it. Looks like she’s just been really unhappy, bless her.
“Even if the treatment works, there’s a chance it could return around age seven. It also means she’s prone to other cancers.
“She will have to undergo checkups and an MRI every year. The medical staff hopes that Ella can live a full life.
“If it was just one eye they would probably remove it, but right now they are treating both eyes.
“The priority is to save Ella’s life, then to save her eyes and then, if possible, her sight.
“Fortunately, this is one of the most survivable cancers, but it causes a lot of damage.”
Natasha is full of praise for the way her daughter has dealt with the condition.
She said: “Ella is amazing. She just got on with everything.
“She’s such a happy kid and most of the time you wouldn’t know there was something wrong with her.
“Ella is just so outgoing and willing to be stuck.
“I was concerned when she was diagnosed and started treatment that Ella would lose her happiness.
“She has sometimes been very ill after the treatment, but she always comes back.
“The chemo has immunocompromised her. Every month she has caught the cold that has caused her to develop a fever, meaning she ends up in Hull Royal Infirmary for a few days a month.
“The chemo drugs also made her stop eating. So she had an NG tube in her nose and down her throat so we can manually drip milk into her.
Ella Sala (Image: Hull Live)
Natasha says it was heartbreaking and exhausting for her and Ben to witness their daughter’s pain, but that every sacrifice is worth it to help Ella.
She said: “Watching her get so sick every month and watch the side effects of the chemotherapy take hold of her tiny body was a terrible time for our family. The damage the retinoblastoma has done to her eyes has been devastating.” heartbreaking.”
She continued: “It has been a very grueling time as we have to attend a number of appointments and monthly trips to Birmingham. It’s taken a lot of our energy, but it’s worth it if it can help Ella.
“Except for Ella’s first appointment in Birmingham, due to Covid restrictions, me and her father have not been able to attend them with her.
“It’s been a struggle to manage the amount of information we get on our own, especially the hard news.
“Her first birthday was spent at the Leeds General Infirmary with a lumbar puncture and epidural – to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread to her bone marrow.”
Natasha hopes that in due course Ella will be able to live a full and happy life, even if her eyesight is severely impaired.
“Ella will never be able to drive, but we hope she will be able to live a full and independent life,” she said.
“We hope she doesn’t need assisted living for the rest of her life.”
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