‘Red eye’ in baby photos alerts parents to tumor

Posted at 4:23 PM, Apr 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-17 16:24:10-04

Chandler, AZ — Red eye is common in baby pictures, but sometimes what looks like a trick of the camera could actually be a warning sign.

When you look at pictures of Elizabeth during her first few months, you’re immediately drawn to her mesmerizing baby blue eyes.

“She seemed to be perfectly fine,” said Joanna Murphy, Elizabeth’s mom.

It’s always said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, what Murphy saw behind the cute face in the photographs ultimately saved her daughter’s life.

“We had a picture where we saw that glow in her eye,” she said.

That golden glow Murphy is referring to was the first indication something was wrong.

“I was going through my Facebook newsfeed and saw an article about this aunt who saved her toddler’s life by what she noticed in a picture,” Murphy said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, we have some pictures that my mom has taken of (Elizabeth), some flash photos where I’ve seen that kind of white glow come out of her right eye.'”

With a pediatric eye specialist’s diagnosis, doctors quickly confirmed Murphy’s suspicion that Elizabeth had what’s called retinoblastoma.

“There was quite a big tumor, that her retina had been fully detached and probably for some time,” Murphy said.

Murphy says she and her husband have no family history of retinoblastoma.

“I really think that article was put in front of me for a reason, and we were fortunate to catch it as early as we did because how is a little baby going to tell you, ‘Hey, I can’t see out of my eye.’ ”

It’s been less than two months since Elizabeth had her eye removed, but she doesn’t seem to know the difference. Elizabeth does everything you would expect babies to at her age, just with one eye instead of two.

“She just amazes us, you know. She’ll come out of her anesthesia or out of surgery, and she’ll be fine,” Murphy said. “She’s just been, you know, so happy.”

Elizabeth’s left eye is fully functioning. The prosthetic right eye will be created as an identical copy and even track with the same movements.

Despite everything Elizabeth has been through in her first few months in the world, Murphy says she can’t help but feel blessed because doctors caught the tumor early, which is the best-case scenario she could have hoped for.

“When you’re at the children’s hospital, you see there’s so many sick kids and, you know, you just are grateful that, OK, this is, in the grand scheme of things, not that big of a deal,” Murphy said. “She’s going to be fine.”

Elizabeth is already well on her way to recovery. Next month, she will get fitted for her prosthetic eye, which will be updated over the years as she continues to grow and develop.

Murphy and her husband are both very tall and were athletes growing up, so they hope Elizabeth too will someday be able to play sports like other kids her age.