Metro Detroit doctor gives Romanian girl gift of sight
Being born prematurely in Romania with a condition that would leave her blind before she became a teen, Maria Maximuic’s future looked bleak.
But a Beaumont Health eye surgeon has helped save the little girl’s sight.
Antonio Capone, an ophthalmologist at Beaumont’s Royal Oak Hospital who specializes in pediatric eye surgery, performed multiple operations on Maria’s eyes.
“She had the most advanced stage of the disease,” said Capone, who has practiced medicine for more than 30 years. “I’m hoping and anticipating, based on how things have gone for her, that she’ll be able to see well enough to negotiate the world.”
Maria, who is now 15 months old, was born in Constanta, a city on the Black Sea coast about 140 miles east of Bucharest, Romania’s capital.
She developed a disorder called retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, one of the most common causes of child vision loss.
In children with the condition, abnormal blood vessels grow and spread throughout the retina, the sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that receives images and sends signals about what is seen to the brain. The abnormal blood vessels can leak and scar the retina, pulling it out of position and causing the retina to detach, which leads to blindness.
Screening prematurely-born children for ROP is critical to preventing them from losing their vision because treatments are highly effective, if applied in a timely fashion, Capone said.
The most effective, proven treatments are laser therapy or cryotherapy. Both aim to slow or reverse the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. In the first method, doctors use a laser to zap the periphery of the retina. In the second, they use a device that freezes spots on the eye’s surface that overlie the periphery of the retina.
But in countries like Romania, medical professionals often do not have skills or resources to identify and treat ROP, he said.
To address the problem, he and other doctors publish their findings, write textbooks and make presentations about the disorder at national and international medical conferences. They also provide clinical outreach overseas and train physicians willing to learn about ROP, he said.
The retinas in both of Maria’s eyes were becoming detached. Doctors in Romania performed surgery, but the procedure was unsuccessful.
Those doctors then put Maria’s mother, Emilia Maximuic, in touch with a nonprofit called Nobody’s Children. Based in Windham, New Hampshire, the 24-year-old group provides medical and humanitarian resources for needy children in Romania and Bosnia.
Officials with the nonprofit reached out to Capone, who at the time was treating infants and children in Rome through a Beaumont program.
They later arranged to bring Maria, her mother and her doctor to Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak for treatment in June.
Capone and his colleagues at Beaumont performed multiple surgeries on each of Maria’s eyes. They removed scar tissue in her eyes, aiming to allow the retinas to reattach so she could see, he said.
They were able to repair the girl’s right eye, but unfortunately, he said, they couldn’t save the left one.
Reports from Maria’s doctor in Romania say the little girl is doing well, Capone said. “I received an email from her ophthalmologist in Bucharest, Dr. Cristina Nitulescu,” Capone said. “She said Maria’s retina has begun to partially reattach and she is now very sensitive to light.”
He said Maria has been given her first pair of eyeglasses to help her see better.
Maria’s mother said she’s grateful to Nobody’s Children and Capone and his team.
“I want to thank Nobody’s Children for bringing hope to my little girl,” Emilia Maximuic said in an email. “I also send my sincere thanks to Dr. Capone and his staff. He is such a caring, kind person, and has given my daughter hope to have eyesight.”
She also thanked people in her homeland and in the U.S. who donated money to Nobody’s Children to make Maria’s eye surgery possible as well as the Romanian doctors who traveled with her and Maria to Royal Oak.
“Thank you all for making hope possible where we thought there was none,” she said.
And without knowing it, Maria may be the catalyst for something even bigger.
Elaine MacEwen, Nobody’s Children’s founder and executive director, said her group is working with Capone and Beaumont to start a program to bring Romanian physicans to Metro Detroit to train in treating retinopathy of prematurity.
“Baby Maria and her Romanian ophthalmologist have helped us initiate the program with Dr. Capone and his colleagues,” MacEwen said in a statement. “In my 25 years of assisting international children with serious, complicated illness, I have never met such a caring, dedicated staff as the team at Beaumont Hospital.
“Beaumont is saving the sight of Romanian infants and bringing them from a world of darkness to a world of light.”