What an Eye-Opener!
This picture was taken because it was the very first time Flynn was able to fully open his eyes. He was about a month old. A baby’s eyesight starts to develop in the womb around 16 weeks gestation, but does not fully mature until up to a month after a baby is born at term. When a baby is born prematurely, especially at a Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW), they are at great risk of developing Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye disease that causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retina. These vessels tend to leak or bleed, leading to scarring of the retina, the layer of nerve tissue in the eye that lets us see. When the scars shrink, they pull on the retina, detaching it from the back of the eye. Because the retina is a vital part of vision, its detachment will cause blindness. Early detection is crucial to determine a proper treatment plan, so regular exams are performed in the NICU by a pediatric ophthalmologist. Did you know that singer Stevie Wonder was actually a preemie and ROP is what caused his blindness? And, in the not-so-real world, if you watch “This Is Us,” ROP is what Baby Jack was diagnosed with and resulted in his blindness, as well. There are various stages of ROP, ranging from mild to severe, and the majority of mild cases will correct themselves over time. Though, children diagnosed with even mild cases of ROP, like Flynn, are more likely to develop vision problems, like strabismus (the crossing or turning of one eye) or amblyopia (the loss of vision in one eye due to loss of nerve pathways to the brain). This means regular visits to the ophthalmologist post-NICU for preventive care and treatment as issues arise.