Improving Kids' Eye Exams

March 4, 2021

Chelsea Sallee knew her son, KJ, was developmentally delayed. “He just wasn’t exploring like other kids,” she said. “Friends at church had even noticed he had sort of a blank stare. Turns out, he just couldn’t see.”

Fortunately, KJ and his mom got that diagnosis when he was only 10 months old, long before he could’ve participated in a standard eye test. That’s because Dr. Kody Finstad, Mercy pediatrician, was testing a new, smartphone-like device from GoCheck Kids.

“I’d seen the device advertised in a pediatric journal, and wanted to check it out,” he said. “You basically take a quick picture of the child’s eyes and it analyzes it for vision problems. Before, we would look at a child’s eyes with a light and be able to tell if one wasn’t working as well as the other. But if both eyes were bad, we wouldn’t know until they were able to look at an eye chart and tell us what objects they saw.”

GoCheck-Kids-Closeup An example of the exam on the GoCheck Kids screening device.

The GoCheck Kids software immediately indicated KJ’s eyes were really bad – and it was right. The next step was glasses. “Right after he got his glasses, he became really engaged, happier and started giggling,” Sallee said. “The scanner was truly a game-changer, and something we wouldn’t even have known to ask for, because it wasn’t available when my oldest child was younger.”

KJ-Sallee-flowers-web KJ Sallee started smiling and interacting with the world after receiving his glasses as a baby.

The early diagnosis not only helped KJ immediately, it was also vital for his brain development. “The brain is learning to see starting at birth,” explained Dr. Catherine Betor, Mercy Kids ophthalmologist. “If one or both of the images from the eyes are blurry for any reason, then the brain never develops the fine connections to perceive vision well in the future. This is called amblyopia, and it’s something kids don’t know to complain about. If we can catch it early, we can treat it successfully. We love having this tool in our pediatricians’ pockets.”

Now, all Mercy pediatricians in the Springfield area have the GoCheck Kids device in their offices, and it has not only uncovered poor vision – it has actually detected cancer. “We had one child who had an odd finding in the GoCheck Kids camera,” Dr. Finstad said. “It took several doctors, but we determined it was cancer in the eye, known as retinoblastoma. Often, children with the condition have to have an eye removed. In this case, we caught it early enough to save the eye.”

GoCheck-Kids-exam A child gets their eyes checked with a quick picture using the GoCheck Kids software.

As for KJ, he’s about to turn 6 years old, and while he still has impaired vision, Sallee is just grateful Dr. Finstad found the condition early. “It’s really kind of a miracle,” she said.

KJ-now-web KJ Sallee, with his latest prescription glasses.

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