It's a parent's worst nightmare, hearing not only that your child has cancer but that she might also lose her eye. That's exactly what happened to an Andover family and their 3-year-old daughter. But as Dr. Mallika Marshall reports, doctors at Boston Children's Hospital are using a revolutionary technique to try to save her vision and her life.
A little over a year ago Dania Snyder was a typical toddler until her parents noticed something unusual about her right eye.
"You could see a little flash of a fleshy piece sort of through her pupil," explains PJ, Dania's father.
That fleshy piece was a tumor. Retinoblastoma. Cancer of the eye.
"As parents, you hear cancer and if you don't have it your family yet, it's a bubble bursting of a world that you didn't know was so protected," says Dania's mother, Brianna.
Retinoblastoma is often cured by simply removing the eye but then a child becomes blind on that side. And despite the tumor, Dania's vision is still good, so her parents decided to try to save her eye.
To save the eye, it often means intravenous chemotherapy with all the associated side effects, like nausea and hair loss, but doctors at Boston Children's Hospital had something relatively new to offer, intra-arterial chemo or IAC.
Dr. Darren Orbach is the Chief of Neurointerventional Radiology at Boston Children's Hospital and Dania's doctor.
"If you go right to the blood vessel supplying the target organ, even though the dose to the tumor is very high," explains Dr. Orbach, "You can give a total dose that's quite low so the rest of the body is not seeing that much drug so they don't get adverse effects."
Dania is placed under general anesthesia and while asleep, doctors thread a tiny catheter through the groin, through the carotid artery and into the ophthalmic artery that supplies blood to the eye. Dr. Orbach then injects chemotherapy drugs directly into the eye.
Hours later, Dania is back up and running with virtually no side effects.
"The next day she can essentially go back to being a kid," says PJ.
Last year Dania underwent four treatments with good success but then the tumor came back. Her parents were disappointed but doctors haven't given up, so she's back at Children's for another go.
"I'm actually quite optimistic with her," says. Dr. Orbach.
And while her parents are also optimistic, they know that ultimately, the most important goal is to save her life.
"It's always been save her life, save her eye, save her vision," says PJ.
"I know that Dania will be successful in whatever she does and if she does have her eye or if she doesn't have her eye, I think she'll be fine," says Dania.
Dania is expected to undergo one more round of intra-arterial chemo and doctors should know in about six months if the tumor is gone.