Surgery was only the second time that pediatric procedure was done in Nevada
Originally published in Green Valley / Henderson View on October 6, 2009. By Danielle Nadler, View Staff Writer
Mia Johnson ran through her grandfather’s front yard in Henderson on a recent evening, greeting neighbors while she rode a small electric car. The 6-year-old, followed closely by her best buddy, Caden Pinson, skipped through the house and back into the yard as she celebrated her first evening she was allowed to play outside since her eye surgery four days earlier.
The only sign that the vibrant girl had undergone one of optometry’s most precarious eye surgeries was a display of colorful paintings and cards from her first-grade classmates. Oh, and her trendy sunglasses that concealed most her face.
Mia, who has been blind in her right eye for five years, had her second corneal transplant Sept. 15, marking her 11th surgery since the fragile girl was born.
The surgery also marked the second pediatric corneal transplant that has been done in Nevada, according to the optometrist and cornea specialist who performed the surgery, Jack Abrams of southwest Las Vegas-based Abrams Eye Institute.
“This procedure is rarely performed on children, due to its high technical difficulty and higher risk of rejection in comparison to adult cases,” he said. “Few surgeons are willing to take such a risk.”
He also performed the state’s first pediatric corneal transplant in 2003.
The first sign of Mia’s fading eyesight came when she was a year old. Her mother, Rebecca Valley, thought Mia had pink eye, so she brought her to an optometrist who said not to worry about it. The eye’s discoloration would go away.
A few days later, the entire eye turned white. Another doctor said Mia had cataracts and suggested she have a corneal transplant, which at the time was not performed on young children in Nevada.
In 2006, Mia underwent the transplant in Southern California. Shortly after, she developed an infection that dissolved the transplant. After seeing several different doctors, she was referred to Abrams.
He said that without surgery, there was a chance Mia would lose her entire eyeball.
“In any child, you only have until the age of 9 to be able to restore vision, and I wanted to give Mia every opportunity to see better,” Abrams said. “We couldn’t have done that without a transplant.”
Even with the risks of surgery, there was no question Valley would urge Mia to undergo the transplant.
“I’m always for surgery because when Mia gets older and finds out I could’ve fixed it and didn’t, how do I explain that?” Valley said.
Mia has about a 50/50 chance to see in her right eye again. If the transplant works, she will gain vision within three months.
Her first stop when she has full vision is the movie theater to see “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” in 3-D.
“I will get to do things that I’ve never done before,” she said. “I’m excited. It’s made me sad that other kids can see better than me.”
Mia has had more than her share of physical hurdles. She’s had a shunt put in that drains fluid from her head; she has a feeding tube because she cannot maintain weight; she has her nose cauterized once a year to prevent severe nose bleeds; she had an eye stigmatism corrected; and she had reconstructive surgery of her skull, which grew abnormally.
“We’re at 11 surgeries, and she’s 6,” Valley said.
They haven’t slowed down Mia, though. Her friends, family and schoolmates make a bigger deal out of her surgeries than she does, filling her room with balloons, cards and stuffed animals. Mia, on the other hand, is characteristically as upbeat as ever.
“Most people can never tell what she’s going through,” Valley said. “If she wasn’t like that, we’d probably have a different outcome to all of this.”