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She teeters on the edge of darkness, even death

4 -year-old Vani has retinoblastoma; with no help, she may go totally blind

”IT’S paining, appa,” cries Vani, tears streaming down her swollen right eye. Her father Prabhakara, who is holding her in his arms, tries to console her, in spite, of knowing there is little he could do to ease her pain.

The four-year-old girl was detected with retinoblastoma, eye cancer, two years ago. At that time, Prabhakara recalled that her left eye was removed to take out the tumour. However, Vani developed vision problem in her right eye three months ago. “She cannot see from her right eye now. The doctor says that she has cancer in this eye too,” he said. A mason, Prabhakara borrowed Rs two lakh to pay for Vani’s first surgery. This time, too it costs the same, but no one is willing to lend him loan.  

Advanced tumour

Dr Ashwin Mallipatna, head of retinoblastoma services, Narayana Nethralaya, who is treating Vani said that she came with retinoblastoma in both her eyes in early 2009. As the left eye had advanced tumour, it was removed. However, her right eye also had tumour, albeit a smaller one. To treat it, she was administered chemotherapy along with special lasers to the tumour in the eye. After a chemotherapy session in October last year, the family did not return for follow-up.

Advanced stage

“Eventually, Vani came in May, this year. The only remaining eye was red and swollen and in an advanced stage. She had also lost her vision,” explained Mallipatna. 

So, in collaboration with Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center, chemotherapy was restarted. 
Vani might need radiation and other complicated treatment to survive. 

“If she had not missed her treatment, we would have been able to save useful vision in her eye,” Mallipatna said. 

Now, if her treatment is disrupted or stopped, the cancer would have a higher chance to spread to the brain and blood. Without any treatment, she may die within three months or a year. With treatment, her life might be saved, said Mallipatna. However, Vani would remain blind, he says.

The hospital has waived most of her treatment charges. However, they are also scouting for private donors.

The incidence of retinoblastoma, which is genetic condition, is about 1:20,000 live births across the world. However, India has the largest number of children affected by it due to the largest live births in the country.

(Published in Deccan Herald on 7th July, 2010)

PS: Vani passed away in August, last year, as the cancer had advanced.

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