Blind and Deaf Toddler Sees and Hears Mom after Life-Changing Surgery at Bascom Palmer

A 2-year-old blind and deaf girl from Santa Catarina, Brazil has undergone surgery at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine that has given her the ability to see and hear for the first time.

Nicolly Pereira was diagnosed with pediatric glaucoma, which left her unable to see or detect any light at all. A previously undetected blockage of fluid in her inner ears left her unable to hear. Nicolly’s mother brought her to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute believing she was not only blind, but also deaf and developmentally disabled, as she did not yet walk or talk.

Nicolly underwent seven unsuccessful surgeries in Brazil prior to receiving the life-changing surgery at Bascom Palmer. During this time, Daiana Pereira posted her daughter’s story on Facebook. The story quickly spread, gaining more than 30,000 followers.

One follower in Miami contacted the Jackson Health Foundation’s International Kids Fund, also called Wonderfund, which teamed up with Carlos and Maria Fiallo, founders of the Kevin Garcia Foundation in honor of their 17-year-old son who they lost in a car accident in 2008, to raise more than $17,000 to pay for Nicolly’s surgery. The family received additional support from community members and local organizations to make the trip to Miami.

On March 17, Alana Grajewski, M.D., director of the Samuel and Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, performed a three-hour surgery that restored Nicolly’s sight. Ramzi Younis, M.D., professor and chief of pediatric otolaryngology at UHealth, performed a 30-minute surgery to drain the fluid buildup in her inner ears.

The moment she saw her mother for the first time was captured on video.

“All of a sudden, she realized, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s my mom,’ and her mother could tell the recognition. It was just one of those priceless moments,” said Dr. Grajewski. That beautiful moment has now been shared with millions of viewers around the world as videos of the story have gone viral.

Nicolly is now able hear her mother’s voice and see, although she is nearsighted and has to wear glasses. She can now stand on her own and sing, with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” being her song of choice. She will have follow-up appointments in Brazil, and will be returning to Bascom Palmer in a year for a checkup. Bascom Palmer doctors plan to train eye doctors in Brazil to be able to identify the signs of pediatric glaucoma and treat it to help other children like Nicolly.

Doctors were initially unsure about how the surgery would turn out.

“When she arrived, I felt I had made a mistake, because normally when they have the children arrive, they have some sort of vision that’s measurable. We have a technician look at them initially and … they wrote down that Nicolly couldn’t see anything, not even a light,” said Grajewski. Nicolly’s eye pressure was at 50, when eye pressure in children is normally from 10 to 20. Grajewski however, still had hope. Following the surgery, Nicolly’s eye pressure decreased down to 12.

Although glaucoma most commonly affects the elderly, primary infantile glaucoma occurs in about 1 in 25,000 babies born in the United States. Glaucoma is a family of more than 30 diseases that affects pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure), and damages the optic nerve. When pressure inside the eye increases, blind spots in peripheral areas of vision may occur. It is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.

In both adults and children with glaucoma, the prevention of permanent blindness requires detection and proper treatment. Glaucoma may go undetected during childhood because the signs of the disease may not be obvious, and the disorder can masquerade as other conditions. Glaucoma may also develop in babies and children who have other types of eye disease.

There are a few early signs of glaucoma in infants and children. These include enlargement of one or both eyes (this may be subtle and can be mistaken for normal), excessive tearing, cloudy corneas, sensitivity to light in one or both eyes, and myopia (commonly known as nearsightedness) in one or both eyes.

Pediatric glaucoma is treated differently than adult glaucoma. Most patients require surgery, and two operations for childhood glaucoma are trabeculotomy and goniotomy, which are almost never used in the treatment of adult glaucoma. Patients usually are referred to specialists for treatment, because most eye doctors do not have experience treating infants or young children with glaucoma. Approximately 80 to 90 percent of babies who receive prompt surgical treatment will do well, and may have normal or nearly normal vision for their lifetime. Most babies who have glaucoma and do not obtain appropriate care quickly will lose their vision. With pediatric glaucoma, early detection and treatment can mean the difference between sight and blindness.

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