July 13, 2011
Premature babies face many health challenges. Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a serious eye condition that affects premature infants, is the leading cause of childhood blindness in the United States.
Sisters of Charity Hospital, a member of Catholic Health, became the first Buffalo area hospital to use a newly approved medication therapy to treat ROP, called intravitreal bevacizumab monotherapy, on an infant in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Airaj Fasiuddin, MD, an ophthalmologist with Catholic Health, along with Sisters Hospital neonatologists Kamal Singhal, MD, and Robert Dukarm, MD, performed the delicate procedure in late June on a baby born at 24 weeks. Just over four pounds at the time of the procedure, the baby girl was born on April 6 weighing just one pound four ounces. Since the procedure, her eye disease has significantly improved.
Dr. Rob Dukarm, Sisters Hospital Neonatologist, Kerry Malecki, Lauren Malecki and Dr. Peter Ostrow, Channel 4 Reporter pose with baby Teresa after her TV debut.
ROP is the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina of premature infants. It generally begins during the first few days of life and may progress rapidly to blindness over a period of weeks. When a baby is born prematurely, normal blood vessel growth is interrupted and new abnormal vessels begin to grow producing fibrous scar tissue, which can pull and detach the retina, and in severe cases, cause blindness.
The medication, which prevents new blood vessels from forming, is injected into the baby’s eye to treat ROP. When compared to conventional laser therapy, which take about three hours for each eye, the medication therapy takes a total of 30 minutes and offers significant benefit for restoring eyesight and preserving the peripheral vision. It also eliminates the need for anesthesia, which can be stressful for premature infants.
Since ROP is responsible for more blindness among children in this country than all other causes combined, it is important that all premature babies be screened for the condition. In February 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study on the effectiveness of intravitreal bevacizumab for retinopathy of prematurity.