Nebraska baby born with cataracts has 3 eye surgeries to save her sight: ‘I just kept praying’

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Madison Artale’s world was darkening before it even began. Diagnosed with congenital cataracts at less than two months old, the baby — born in Bellevue, Nebraska, on Oct. 1 — was in danger of losing her sight forever.

Her parents, who were stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, turned to Children’s Nebraska for help. 

To save the child’s sight, Dr. Paul Rychwalski, medical director of ophthalmology at the hospital, embarked on a mission with his team.

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Brandee Artale first noticed the baby’s cataracts while she was breastfeeding her, she told Fox News Digital during an on-camera interview. (See the video at the top of this article.)

“I looked down, and I was like, there’s something weird in her eyes,” she said.

At first, the parents thought it was just an odd reflection of light, but their primary doctor confirmed they should see an eye doctor. 

From there, they were referred to Children’s Nebraska.

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Congenital cataracts are quite rare in babies, according to Rychwalski. 

“We think of cataracts as older adults having them you know, Grandpa needs cataract surgery,” he told Fox News Digital. “But it does happen in children.”

About a third of cases are inherited, and another third stem from other medical or genetic problems, the doctor said.

The final third come from unknown causes, which was the case for Madison Arta

In eyes with cataracts, the lens that sits directly behind the pupil is cloudy. Some cases are more severe than others, Rychwalski said.

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“In Madison’s case, it was a dense, white, cloudy opacity right in the center of the visual axis,” he said.

“So there was no way to get through that to stimulate the retina and bring sight to her brain. She was at risk of permanent vision loss if we didn’t clear this visual access in a timely fashion.”

It was important to remove the cloudy lens as soon as possible so the brain could immediately have a focused image, Rychwalski said.

“I just kept praying everything would be OK, and that she would make it through.”

Brandee Artale described the prospect of surgery for her new baby as “terrifying.”

“I kept thinking, my daughter’s only 2-1/2 months old and she’s going under anesthesia … Is this safe for her?” she told Fox News Digital. 

I just kept praying everything would be OK, and that she would make it through.”

Over the next few months, the team performed three delicate surgeries using the NGENUITY 3D Visualization System. 

“All of the ocular structures are very, very small,” Rychwalski said. “And so we’ve used some new technology in magnification and surgical displays.”

He went on, “Instead of staring down through a microscope, I’m actually sitting straight up with 3D glasses, looking at a very large screen. And while I’m operating, everyone in the room has the exact same view as I do. There’s a reverence for what we’re doing for Madison. The teamwork in the operating room in this fragile surgery is … something pretty astounding.”

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Madison Artale had the cataracts removed from both eyes at different times, her father told Fox News Digital. 

“And then she had pressure issues in her left eye that required her to go into a third surgery,” he said.

Seeing his daughter get wheeled into surgery “tugged at my heartstrings,” said Andrew Artale.

“But she [handled] the surgeries amazingly. I couldn’t have asked for her to handle it as well as she did.”

“You need to be able to express your emotions and fears.”

At 7 months old, Madison Artale now sees clearly. She is captivated by the world around her, according to her parents.

To correct her vision, she wears special prescription eyeglasses.

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“They’re like second nature to her now,” her father said. “We don’t have to fight to try to put the glasses on. And she’s looking around at everything just as she would normally. So we’re very happy with the results.”

Sometime in the future, Madison Artale will need another surgery to implant a replacement lens, the doctor said.

Throughout the entire process, trust in Dr. Rychwalski and the entire care team at Children’s Nebraska has been paramount, said Brandee Artale.

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“I think that’s probably the most important thing for any parent … is having a relationship with your doctor. You need to be able to express your emotions and fears.”

She added, “Having that relationship … has made this whole journey so much easier on all of us.”