“This is how I used to see, mommy.” As five-year-old Carly handed her mom a pair of old goggles, foggy and worn out, Jodi Burgess’ heart sank. “How could I not have known?” she thought to herself.
Jodi had no idea that her daughter was having extraordinary vision issues. In preparation for Kindergarten, Jodi had taken Carly to their family eye doctor for her first comprehensive eye exam and within minutes the doctor noticed something unusual.
“I don’t believe what I am seeing,” said the doctor, encouraging Jodi to peek through the phoropter, an instrument used to assess if someone is seeing clearly. “I remember saying aloud ‘I can’t see through this,’” recalls Jodi. “I thought something was wrong with the instrument I was looking through.”
“Turns out, the image was severely distorted because Carly had advanced cataracts in both eyes. Her vision was so poor that neither myself nor the doctor were able to see clearly into her eyes. And that’s how Carly was going through everyday life,” remembers Jodi. “As a parent, you immediately blame yourself.”
Carly never complained of vision problems, which made the detection all the more surprising. “I think as a kid, you compensate,” notes Jodi. “Carly’s teacher once told me that Carly would turn away when the teacher spoke. She thought something was going on, but no one could put their finger on it. Turns out Carly was adapting to her vision issues by turning her ear toward the teacher.” Cataracts in children are very rare, but not unheard of as Jodi later learned, affecting approximately one in every 250 children.
After being referred to a leading eye specialist in Northern California and undergoing three surgeries, the cataracts were completely removed. “I’ll never forget the moment the bandages came off,” recalls Jodi. “Carly told me she never knew there were individual leaves on trees.”
While Carly’s cataracts were physically gone, they still left a lasting impact. “As a child we had to coach her to look at people in the eye because she was so used to hearing and not seeing. To date, Carly is an auditory learner.”
Now a Junior in high school, Jodi describes Carly as an old soul, calm, patient, and funny. “As an auditory learner she’s now challenging herself by taking a sign language class at a local community college. The idea that she’s seeking to help others communicate through sight touches me. She’s my sunshine and just a happy person. She is very creative and unique and off the wall.”
“The highs and the lows are my favorite things about parenting,” says Jodi. “It can be very challenging to ensure everyone in your family is well, in every sense of the word, but seeing your children flourish, happy and healthy, makes it all worth it.”
VSP recognizes that moms are often the chief medical officers of their households, on call 24/7, and the first line of defense when it comes to their family’s overall health, including eye health. This post is a part of our #WeSeeYouMom profile series designed to celebrate those who work tirelessly to raise strong and healthy families.