cataract, laser, Alyssa, Crain, Mercy

Published 11/25 2013 06:40PM

Updated 11/25 2013 09:53PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A young girl from the Ozarks sees a brighter future, since becoming the first child in the United States to undergo a laser cataract surgery. 

Mercy in Springfield is the only place to offer it in the United States. Mercy doctors have performed thousands of laser cataract removal surgeries on adults, but never on a child -- until Alyssa Crain.

Her father says it changed her life, and it can change other's lives too.

"Snow! Fish!" says four year old Alyssa Crain as she points to pictures in a magazine. 

A couple months ago, she would not have been able to identify these objects. 

"We were noticing she was stumbling over things, she couldn't see down the hallway," says Alyssa's father, Erin Crain. 

It turned out his daughter had cataracts. 

"The right eye had gotten to the point where she really couldn't see out of it," explains Erin.

Dr. Wendell J. Scott suggested cataract removal surgery.  The surgery is currently "off label" for children, meaning it has not been tested nor FDA approved. 

"It has not been done in the U.S. and there may be unforeseen consequences," explains Dr. Wendell Scott, Mercy Ophthalmologist. 

"For any parent there's going to be that degree of apprehension," says Erin. 

When asked about her surgery, Alyssa remarked, "I was scared." 

"But very brave!" added her father.

The cataract removal procedure is more complicated in children versus adults.

"The tissue is different, it behaves differently, the elasticity is different, so there are special things we have to do surgically to make sure it is a safe procedure," explains Dr. Scott. 

Mercy is the only hospital in the United States that offers this type of surgery to pediatric patients.

"The major advantages to laser is the precision and the ability to make incisions with the laser that we otherwise had quite a bit of difficulty doing," says Dr. Scott. 

"It also didn't require another surgery later, so putting all those together, I mean, it was kind of a no-brainer," adds Erin.

Alyssa and her father went on a walk two weeks after her surgery. 

"She pointed to some birds and watched them track across the sky.  She had never seen anything that far away," says Erin. 

He says he's amazed how quickly after the surgery Alyssa could see. 

"It's pretty much opened up her life -- to go from not being able to see to be able to see the board at school," explains Erin. 

"I can cut shapes," adds Alyssa.

"This has the potential to be hugely life changing for a lot of people," says Erin. 

Doctor Scott stresses how important it is that children get cataracts treated immediately.  He says if they aren't corrected at an early enough age, the child's brain won't develop the ability to see.

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