Parker Turner, a 5-year-old boy from Hallsville, dreamed of the day when he would be able to play baseball. Finally old enough, Parker donned his blue jersey and joined his T-ball teammates in the spring of 2019. He learned the fundamentals of throwing, catching and hitting.
These baseball basics weren’t always easy for Parker. He was born with a rare eye condition that made it difficult for him to see.
When Parker was a baby, Vikki Turner thought her son’s eyes were crossing. She took him to the family’s pediatrician, who referred Parker to a child eye specialist. Because he was so young, surgery was postponed until Parker was 4 years old, allowing time for him to grow and develop. Parker’s visual function and posture would have been difficult to diagnosis and treat as an infant. He was then referred to Mohannad Al-Samarraie, MD, the director of pediatric ophthalmology at University of Missouri Health Care.
“When I met Parker for the first time, he had to turn his face to the right almost 45 degrees to look straight ahead,” Al-Samarraie said. “Without turning his head, Parker would have double vision that may have ultimately lead to right eye suppression and amblyopia, or lazy eye.”
Parker was born with Duane syndrome, a disease that affects 1 in 1,000 people. In patients with Duane syndrome, the nerve that controls the muscle responsible for lateral eye movement isn’t properly developed.
“I was very nervous whenever we first found out,” Vikki said. “I Googled it, and that didn’t help. The results kept suggesting there was nothing we could do for him because it’s a nerve condition he was born with. Even using a fork, sometimes we would notice that he needed to move his head around so he could really see where he was poking to get his food.”
There is no cure for Duane syndrome, but MU Health Care offers an innovative surgical solution. Al-Samarraie — who is fellowship-trained in pediatric ophthalmology, neuro-ophthalmology and strabismus (misaligned eyes) — performed surgery on Parker's right eye in April 2018. It was the first of its kind at MU Health Care.
Using adjustable sutures, Al-Samarraie weakened the tight muscle that pulls the eye inward, which allowed him to fine-tune the muscle position after Parker woke up from surgery. Al-Samarraie also changed the path of the muscle, which normally moves the eye upward, into a more outer position to help in pulling the eye outward.
Parker’s eye alignment drastically improved. His head turn is now unnoticeable.
“Just within the past few years, we’ve been able to provide this unique surgery at MU Health Care that only a handful of places in the United States offer,” Al-Samarraie said.
Parker was able to go home the same day of his surgery.
If left untreated, Duane syndrome can cause a lazy eye, which is the leading cause of vision impairment for children and adults. It can also lead to other vision issues, head-posture problems and mental-health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Al-Samarraie recommends parents have their children screened for any visual impairments during their annual health exams. “If parents notice eyes wandering, crossing, squinting, the inability to see clearly, sitting too close to the TV or holding electronics close to their face, it might be a sign there are vision problems,” Al-Samarraie said.
In Parker’s case, surgery gave him a new outlook.
“It’s going to physically and emotionally let him live the best life that he can live,” Vikki said.
Parker is now able to face life head-on with his vision improving every day. He doesn’t need glasses and is back to enjoying his favorite activities.
“He’s feeling a little bit more confident with tee ball since the surgery,” Vikki said. “He no longer has a head tilt and has a much wider range of vision to see what’s going on. It seems like he’s able to pick up the ball a little bit faster, too.”