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Health Team

New approach at Duke helps treat eye cancer in babies

Posted May 11

When Marilyn Rose Wisdom was born in April of last year she was a bit cross-eyed, but her pediatrician said it would probably resolve itself.

At 8 months of age, though, it didn't improve. Then, Marilyn's parents, Dominique Royster and Rajal Wisdom, noticed another problem.

"We just noticed that, you know, her hand-eye coordination wasn't really where it should have been for her age," Royster said.

She was referred to the Duke Eye Center where doctors diagnosed her with retinal blastoma—a tumor on the retina.

Eye cancer is not a common problem, but occasionally parents or a doctor discovers it. When Marilyn Rose was diagnosed, Duke University doctors used a new approach to cure her.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Miguel Materin said standard treatment is intravenous chemotherapy, which has side effects that affect the whole body.

Marilyn Rose is only the second child in the state to undergo a new approach called interarterial chemotherapy.

"The interventional doctor finds an artery that is in the leg and goes with the catheter behind the eye. That's where the drug is delivered," Materin said.

The drug is delivered close to the tumor itself. Patients undergo two treatments, with many specialists involved.

"It is team work, and it requires coordination with other specialties," Materin said.

The more directed therapy, though, brings fewer side effects, and Materin says Marilyn Rose has a 95% chance of keeping the eye and doing well.

She now wears glasses for protection only.

The right eye retina still functions, but she depends more on her one good left eye.

"I have to say that her vision is actually very good," Royster said.

Marilyn Rose's parents remember coming to the hospital, knowing she was about to go through a very challenging procedure. They say her attitude made it easier for them.

"We're praying, Wisdom said. "We're hoping that she takes everything well."

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