2016-02-07 / Insight

Mom seeks mandatory screening

BY KRYSTAL JOHNS
810-452-2609 •


Damian Creed, 3, is fighting metastatic retinoblastoma, and his mother, Sarah Hancock is fighting to have an eye screening made mandatory for all children. The screening, known as the red reflex test, would likely have caught Damian’s cancer before it became so advanced. 
Photo courtesy Sarah Hancock Damian Creed, 3, is fighting metastatic retinoblastoma, and his mother, Sarah Hancock is fighting to have an eye screening made mandatory for all children. The screening, known as the red reflex test, would likely have caught Damian’s cancer before it became so advanced. Photo courtesy Sarah Hancock NAPLES, Fla. — Lapeer native Sarah Hancock is on a mission to make a simple screening mandatory for all children in hopes of keeping children from suffering like her three-year-old son, Damian Creed.

Creed was diagnosed shortly after his second birthday with a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma. It was found after Hancock noticed the pupil of his left eye was fixed and dilated, and the cancer was already quite advanced by that time — the tumor inside his eye had become so large, it shredded and detached his retina.

Damian had laser treatments and chemotherapy, and he was given the all-clear. However, the cancer returned with a vengeance and he ended up losing his eye. Tests later showed the cancer had metastasized to his brain. He had 30 treatments of proton radiation at UF Proton Institute in Jacksonville, Fla., and he’s now undergoing chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells in his body.


Sarah Hancock, Damian Creed’s mother, says early detection of her son’s cancer would have saved his eye. 
Photo courtesy Sarah Hancock Sarah Hancock, Damian Creed’s mother, says early detection of her son’s cancer would have saved his eye. Photo courtesy Sarah Hancock “His prognosis is dismal, but we are fighting and doing all we can,” said Hancock.

Damian, she said, was in his pediatrician’s office for every well child visit, as well as other issues, including right before his diagnosis. If the pediatrician had looked into his eyes with the room’s lights off, she would have seen that something was wrong.

The knowledge that her son’s cancer could have been detected much earlier, when his chances of survival were much higher, kicked Hancock into motion, with the help of other parents, foundations and lobbyists.

“I am in the process of researching and drafting a bill that will make it mandatory for a newborn’s eyes to be checked before they leave the hospital, just like the hearing screening,” Hancock said. “A red reflex test takes seconds and it’s very important. I am also asking that it be mandatory at all well-child visits until age 4. Early detection would have saved my son’s eye.”

“I’m just going to present the facts and let the facts speak,” she continued. “Hearing is a sense, just like vision. We test for hearing loss at birth. Vision isn’t as important? I think it is.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that chil- dren are given the red reflex test, during which the pediatrician looks into the child’s eye in a darkened room, using a light. They are looking for uniform red pupil reflections. A differing reflection or a white or gold color instead of red indicates that there could be a problem, ranging from cataracts to the most serious — retinoblastoma.

“It’s a recommendation. I want to make it mandatory so another family doesn’t hear that their child’s prognosis is dismal,” Hancock said. “I spend each day wondering if it’s the last time my 3-year-old will do something. Was this Christmas his last one? Will this next birthday be his last? That is how I spend my days. It’s more than unbearable.”

For the time being, parents can request the exam during their children’s well-child visit. It takes very little time and no special equipment. In addition, there is a free mobile phone app available called the CRADLE white eye detector, which was developed by Bryan Shaw, a professor of chemistry at Baylor University. Shaw’s son was diagnosed with retinoblastoma after his doctor saw the white reflection in his eye — leukocoria — at a visit. Shaw noticed the same glow appeared in some photos taken with a flash, and he and some colleagues developed the free app, which scans photos on a person’s mobile device, looking for the leukocoria.

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