What is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)?
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a disease in newborn babies that can cause permanent blindness if physicians fail to treat the condition in a timely and proper manner. Premature babies and babies with very low birth weights have the highest risk of developing ROP. Because of this, all eye doctors that screen for ROP must be extremely familiar with the disease and have substantial experience in knowing the disease’s nuances. The standard of care has changed many times over the course of the past two decades. Thus, what was acceptable for a screening six years ago may not be acceptable today. The trend is towards earlier screening and earlier treatment.
When medical professionals fail to diagnose, monitor and cure treatable diseases like ROP, they should be held accountable for their mistakes and the resulting consequences. Richard M. Shapiro has dedicated his career to helping families affected by ROP blindness. Our team finds solutions and financial resources for families coping with baby blindness caused by ROP. Our goal is to then completely wipe out this affliction by bringing awareness to this curable condition.
What Happens to Babies with ROP?
Children born at the normal term of nine months develop the growth of their eyes’ vessels prior to birth. However, in cases where babies develop ROP, the vascular tree does not grow in the same fashion. Instead, these babies’ blood vessels develop after their birth. The vessel walls are abnormal. They are fibrous and lack the elasticity of normal vasculature. They leak fluid, which in turn sticks to the retina and tugs at the retina. This force may actually cause a detached retina in an infant or a tear in the retina, causing blindness. A doctor should recognize retinal detachment symptoms.
Every case of ROP is different. In most cases, the disease reverses course and there is recovery for a detached retina. Unfortunately, in those instances where the disease progresses and worsens, there is no way yet known to science which babies will worsen versus those that cure themselves. This is why it is essential that pediatric ophthalmologists at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) monitor the progression or regression of ROP and the detached retina in a baby with the utmost care. The International Classification of Retinopathy of Prematurity has classified five stages of ROP:
- Mild abnormalities in blood vessel development
- Moderate abnormalities
- Severe abnormalities
- Severe abnormalities coupled with a partially detached retina
- Completely detached retina
How Can Doctors Prevent Blindness from ROP?
There is no way to prevent ROP, but doctors can preserve vision if they do their jobs timely and correctly. Pediatric ophthalmologists (sometimes it may be a general ophthalmologist or retinal ophthalmologist that screens, but they must have substantial training in the recognition of the progression of ROP) must screen the child’s eyes for potential retina issues, including ROP. If they timely discover the progression of ROP to its “sweet spot” for ROP treatment, laser surgery (photocoagulation) almost always results in meaningful vision. Laser treatment stops the abnormal vessels by building a ridge around the afflicted areas of the retina. Historically, ophthalmologists used freezing, known as cryotherapy, to cure ROP. However, m
ostly in today’s care, laser therapy is the treatment of choice.
If the retina has already detached, meaningful vision is unlikely. There are some procedures of last resort that can possibly restore vision. If a baby’s ROP has progressed to Stage 4 or Stage 5 (partial or total detachment), it is unlikely that vision can be preserved.
My Child Is Blind From ROP. What Can I Do?
Recent scientific advances in understanding the human genetic codes and the possible use of Avastin represent hope for a cure in the not too distant future. As medical improvements advance, doctors can better diagnose and respond to potential ROP dangers. Scientific advancements also mean that it is inexcusable for entirely preventable injuries to occur. Richard M. Shapiro, a retinopathy of prematurity lawyer with substantial experience in handling ROP cases, offers solutions for families dealing with preemie blindness. We can help you lay the foundation for a more stable future as your family grows.