Stories about: retinoblastoma

Catching up with Poppy: Life after an eye tumor

retinoblastoma
Poppy with her little sister Hazel (Courtesy of Dana Biagini)

When Poppy Biagini was just four months old, her family got news no parent wants to hear — that she had a rare, rapidly growing tumor in her right eye called a retinoblastoma.

That was almost three years ago. But if you looked at Poppy today, you’d be hard pressed to tell that she’s anything other than your average 3-year-old who loves Curious George, swim class and playing dress-up.

“She knows that there’s something a little different with her eye than everyone else’s,” her father Dana says. “But she’s handling it well.”

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Murphy keeps smiling after losing an eye to cancer

MurphyNewStrangers often tell Christine and Bryan that their daughter Murphy has such big, beautiful eyes. What they don’t know is that one of her eyes is not real. “We just want to say, ‘You have no idea!’, but we just smile and say, ‘thank you!’”

Before
Murphy before surgery

When Murphy was five months old, Christine noticed that her daughter’s right pupil looked a bit iridescent. As a neurological nurse, she knew what to do to test a patient’s eyesight: she covered her daughter’s right eye to no effect. But when she covered the left eye, “Murphy lost her mind.”

Christine called her local pediatrician and was seen that afternoon. When a crowd of staff started to gather around Murphy during the exam, Christine knew something was wrong. “I’m a nurse. When there’s an odd diagnosis, everyone wants to observe the patient. I knew from experience that something wasn’t right.”

Murphy’s pediatrician scheduled an appointment for them two hours later at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Ophthalmology. Ophthalmologist and surgeon Ankoor Shah, MD, PhD, examined Murphy and asked Christine and Bryan to sit down. They refused.

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An unusual route to saving a child’s eye

Poppy Biagini (left) and Liam Klagges (right), each with the white glow of retinoblastoma in one eye. (Courtesy Dana Biagini and Amy Klagges)

All Poppy Biagini’s family knew was that something was off about her right eye. Liam Klagges’ family’s first sign that something was wrong was that his eyes didn’t always track properly, and that his left eyelid hung a little lower than his right.

Both children, it turns out, had a tumor called a retinoblastoma. Usually diagnosed in children younger than 5, it’s rare—only about 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with it every year—but grows rapidly from the back of the eye. For that reason, doctors have to start treating it as soon as it’s diagnosed, lest it fill the eye or start invading surrounding tissues.

There are a few different ways of treating retinoblastoma, such as chemotherapy, radiation or enucleation (surgical removal of the eye). But both Poppy and Liam’s families elected to try something different—a procedure called intra-arterial (IA) chemotherapy that delivers treatment right to the tumor. Today, both children still have both eyes because of it.

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