Refusing to tick any boxes
We learned a hard lesson when seeking a diagnosis of our daughter’s inability to move her eyes, writes DAMIAN CULLEN
Good Friday 2007. There was silence in the car. For my wife and me, it was the first time we heard the words that would immediately take over our lives. Ocular Motor Apraxia.
When we come up against challenges in our lives, most of us are ready for them, or at least aware of them. For Ellen, as with many children, challenges were unfortunately waiting for her immediately outside the womb.
Even her birth wasn’t straightforward. Ellen was delivered by emergency Caesarean after doctors became concerned about her wildly fluctuating heart rate. They found the cord was wrapped around her neck three times. It was another few months before there was an inkling something might be amiss. Ellen missed the usual early milestones, and we had particular concern over a lack of eye movement.
Two decades earlier, over a period of about seven months, a virus had deteriorated my own eyesight to the point where I was fully blind. The first doctor my parents brought me to believed I was faking in order to skip school. The last was an ophthalmologist at the Mater hospital in Dublin, Michael O’Keeffe, who worked tirelessly to restore my sight.
Naturally, he would be the only person I would trust with my daughter’s eyesight, so Ellen was brought to see the Prof, who recognised ocular motor apraxia (OMA). She was eight months old. As we drove home, both of us were quietly wondering what lay ahead for our little girl.
Google immediately became our friend, and then, just as quickly, our enemy: we researched, read and worried about learning difficulties, social problems, kidney complaints, etc.
OMA is characterised by the inability to voluntarily move the eyes (also known as saccade initiation failure). And the severity of an alternating divergent squint had caused Ellen’s eyes to stop working together, a (unfortunately permanent) defence mechanism by the brain. However, it was the associated conditions that seemed to follow wherever OMA presented which prompted the most worry.
Ellen’s neurological condition is still poorly defined, and there appears to be little chance of it being any clearer in the short term. There is even disagreement in the medical community as to whether OMA is a symptom or a condition in itself. All that is certain is that it does involve dyspraxia and a difficulty with balance and gait as well as developmental delay.
And so began a seemingly never-ending merry-go-round of specialists: paediatricians, ophthalmologists, geneticists, paediatric physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, neurologists, psychiatrists, speech and language therapists.
We’ve come to realise, however, that no one – no one – knows a child better than a parent. It was a hard-learned lesson.
While all the consultants who saw Ellen were fascinated with encountering a relatively rare condition, few were confident enough to venture an opinion on the underlying condition. A few did, however.