Lily Reed sees a bright future ahead of her — literally. After undergoing several surgeries to remove cataracts that nearly blinded her, she’s looking forward to all the wonders and excitement of a typical preschooler: a summer filled with bike riding, dance, running around the yard with her sisters and a birthday bash to celebrate turning 6.
It’s a dream come true for a family that wasn’t sure this could be possible. Lily was born with developmental cataracts that matured quickly around her first birthday. By the time she neared age 2, her vision had deteriorated to about 20/200, which is considered legally blind. Playing outside was scary and dangerous for a toddler who couldn’t see color or make out any objects.
“She’s come a long way,” her mother, Sara Reed, said. “We don’t have any eye issues, and it’s a whole new world for us — and her. We have noticed recently she’s taking off her glasses more and more because, seemingly, she doesn’t depend on them as much.”
After Lily and her twin sister, Gracie, turned 1, their growth and development became noticeably different. Lily wasn’t walking well, and she felt unsure of leaving her mom’s side to run in the grass with her sisters. In fact, she wouldn’t even step off the concrete driveway.
It wasn’t until Lily started squinting, bumping into walls and holding toys right up to her face that Sara and her husband, Christopher, realized Lily’s vision could be impaired.
In April 2017 at Lily’s first appointment with an optometrist near their home in Louisville, OH, the news was grave. The doctor couldn’t see through Lily’s pupil, even after dilating her eyes. He told the family Lily was blind and referred her to Akron Children’s.
“I went in thinking she’d need glasses, so that was a hard blow to take,” Sara said. “It was the worst possible news we could ever have imagined.”
Thankfully, the news at their first appointment with Dr. Richard Hertle, Akron Children’s director of Ophthalmology, was much more positive, assuring and hopeful. He was confident that after surgery on each eye to remove the cataracts Lily’s vision could return to normal by school age.
“Lily has a rare condition, childhood cataracts,” said Dr. Hertle. “But as a result of our experience , combined with evidence-based treatment, I was able to assure the family that there was a good prognosis after surgery.”
With no time to delay because Lily risked permanent vision loss if left untreated, the 2-year-old underwent her first lensectomy on April 13, 2017. Dr. Hertle removed her clouded lens and replaced it with an artificial one that was scripted for her.
“Dr. Hertle was able to get a really good look at what exactly was going on in her eye during the surgery,” said Sara. “He was amazed she was even functioning. He believed in one eye she was maybe seeing shadows and was totally blind in the other.”
On April 27, Lily underwent the same surgery for her other eye.
“The fact that Dr. Hertle was so confident in treating Lily’s condition from the very first time we met him, we knew she was in the best hands possible,” said Sara. “He reassured us and made it an easy process. And, the staff was so wonderful and made sure Lily went home with a gift, a blanket or stuffed animal for comfort, after each surgery.”
When Lily arrived home after her second surgery, she spotted her big sister — seemingly for the first time. She ran right up to her and grabbed her face with her hands, holding it and hugging it for several minutes.
She was eager to get outside and play with her sisters, instead of resting up after surgery. She could now see and it was a whole new world for her.
Once outside, Lily walked over to the grass, touched it with her hands and then with her foot as if testing the “waters.” She then took one giant step off the driveway and ran around with her sisters, and has never looked back.
“It’s like she now could see the difference in color between the driveway and the grass. It didn’t look so dark and scary,” said Sara. “She could now see what it was and it wasn’t this huge, dangerous drop-off from the driveway.”
There was just one last obstacle to clear on Lily’s road to better vision. She also suffered from strabismus (wandering eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eyes). In January 2019, she underwent one last surgery to improve her eye alignment, depth perception and overall vision.
Today, the family is thrilled to report that Dr. Hertle’s original prediction of normal vision for her age by the start of school was spot on. At every checkup, Lily’s vision prescription continues to improve. At her appointment last fall, her vision was 20/30, which is in normal range. She sees Dr. Hertle again at the end of this month and the family is optimistic for yet another improvement in her prescription.
“We are so thankful for Dr. Hertle, plain and simple,” Sara said. “I don’t know where we’d be without him. He’s always so sweet with Lily, and now she absolutely loves going to see him. She announces to everyone, he’s the doctor who fixed my eyes.”