Cancer boy goes home after operation that blinded him

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS KILLEN, a six-year-old boy suffering from a rare form of cancer of the retina, left hospital yesterday, 24 hours after the operation which saved his life but cost him his sight.

Surgeons at St Bartholomew's Hospital, central London, removed his right eye in an hour-long operation on Thursday, after doctors concluded that they would have to do so to save Nicholas's life. His left eye was removed in earlier surgery.

Last night, Nicholas was reunited with his six brothers and sisters at their home in Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

A hospital spokesman said: 'Nicholas has made a good recovery.' It was not unusual for patients to be allowed home the day after such surgery, he added.

The last person that Nicholas saw was his mother Susan, 40, who was allowed into the operating theatre before the anaesthetic was administered.

His family discovered that he was suffering from cancer three years ago after he began walking into objects and complained during a holiday that he could not see out of his left eye. His left eye was removed and he subsequently underwent 22 radiotherapy sessions and six doses of chemotherapy over a six-month period to fight the cancer.

The sight in his right eye was good until recently, but then there was a rapid deterioration.

John Hungerford, the surgeon who carried out the operation, last night described the difficult choice facing parents and doctors in such situations.

He said that any doctor would find it upsetting to have to leave a child blind. But he added: 'We have to look at the positive side of operations like this because sometimes there may be a bargain between vision and life. It's obviously upsetting and we would rather not do that, but it's better to be alive than dead.'

Mr Hungerford, who refused to discuss Nicholas's particular case, said that the disease he suffers from, retinoblastomas, strikes 1 in 20,000 children a year in Britain.

About 10 per cent go on to develop the cancerous tumours in the retinas of both eyes.

In such cases, when the tumours cannot be treated by radiotherapy or chemotherapy, the decision to remove both eyes to prevent the spread of the cancer ultimately lies with the parents, he said.

Mr Hungerford also said that, although retinoblastomas rarely spreads once both eyes have been removed, about one-third of sufferers who develop the disease in both eyes do so because of genetic defects, which raise the chances of them suffering from other unrelated tumours.

(Photograph omitted)

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