Published: July 12, 2007
Updated: July 7, 2010
Kyle Street has inherited many traits from his mother: strong faith, extraordinary grace, sensitivity…and congenital cataracts. It is those first qualities -- and a supportive family -- that have helped Kyle, now 13, deal with the latter.
Pediatric glaucoma is a group of diseases that are complex and challenging to manage. Duke Eye Center’s Sharon Freedman, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics, is one of the few pediatric glaucoma specialists in the country.
In 2001 when Kyle was six years old, Colleen and Kevin Street brought their son to see Freedman. Over the last six years, the Streets have made several such visits to Duke from their Indiana home for treatment and surgery.
Kyle’s latest and longest journey to the Eye Center, beginning in October 2006, has been a roller coaster ride. Kevin stayed in Indiana with Kyle’s older brother to support the family financially, while Kyle and Colleen settled into the Ronald McDonald House of Durham.
Arriving with uncontrolled intraocular pressure and declining vision in his left eye (his better-seeing eye), Kyle underwent surgery immediately. Freedman and Prithvi Mruthyunjaya, MD, an Eye Center vitreoretinal surgeon, implanted an artificial glaucoma drainage device, reconstructed the anterior chamber to remove the vitreous gel from the back part of the eye, and used a laser treatment for weak spots discovered in the peripheral retina.
During the next several weeks, two more surgical procedures were needed, one to remove residual lens material which swelled and obstructed the vision, and the second to reattach Kyle’s retina after fluid seeped under it from one of the retinal weak spots.
The second surgery was performed as an emergency by another Duke vitreoretinal surgeon, Sharon Fekrat, MD, FACS. This surgery required placement of a long-acting gas bubble inside Kyle’s eye, which would help keep his retina attached while it healed, but also kept him in Durham for six more weeks. Finally, in December Kyle had yet another small surgery to initiate flow through his glaucoma drainage device, which had become blocked when he had his retina reattachment surgery.
Kyle and his mother returned to their home in January, and he attended a new school in Indiana for the visually impaired. But after several weeks, Kyle noticed a shadow creeping over the vision in his left eye. Again, he and his mother traveled back to Duke for emergency retinal reattachment surgery. At this point, it was becoming clear that his vision, however limited, was indeed tenuous and could possibly disappear for good. Kyle and his family began to seriously contemplate what it would be like for him to live life without sight.
While Freedman and other Eye Center surgeons continued their efforts to restore Kyle’s sight, Eye Center clinical social worker Renee Halberg, MSW, worked with him and his mother to provide emotional support and to help prepare Kyle to function in school with further reduced vision.
“Kyle has had to endure a rapid pace of change unimaginable to most 13-year-olds,” says Halberg. “And he has done so with a remarkable sense of grace.”
Halberg accompanied the Street family to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, North Carolina where he was introduced to a world where students walk with white canes, learn keyboarding skills, and use Braille readers and computer-assisted technology.
After a scary, emotional month, Kyle’s vision began to return. By April his vision had almost improved to where it was last June, Freedman reports. “There is about a 75 percent chance that Kyle’s vision will return to its pre-surgery state. Even his best vision is what most people would consider legal blindness.”
He looks forward to being home with his friends but laughs as he recounts attending Duke basketball games and the Teddy Bear Ball. There have been some good times, he says. In almost six months at the Ronald McDonald House, he and his mother have made new friends with whom they’ve celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kyle’s 13th birthday.
His one regret is that he didn’t meet Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, although he came close. Maybe next time, he says. Colleen says Kyle’s experience at Duke has been a miracle.
“I thought my God, my child is blind,” she recalls of the day her son’s sight left him. Today she is relieved, optimistic, and appreciative of the efforts of everyone at Duke Eye Center. “They have saved his sight,” she says. And given a terrific young man the chance to be a teenager again.
*Since this article was originally published, Kyle and his parents have relocated to Apex, North Carolina where he continues to benefit from treatment at Duke Eye Center.