4-year-old girl loses both eyes to rare form of cancer

SINGAPORE - A 4-year-old Singapore girl is suffering from a rare form of cancer that has caused her to go blind in both eyes.

Luo Zixuan is afflicted with a condition that affects one in 5,000 people. Her family has spent more than $200,000 for her treatment, only for her to remain sightless, Shin Min Daily News reported.

Her mother Madam Pan, a 42-year-old hairdresser, told reporters that she has three children - two sons aged two and 13 years of age, with Zixuan being the middle child.

"When she was born, Zixuan was no different from the other children. However, when she turned one, she gradually appeared to look cross-eyed, and her right pupil turned dark brown," she said.

"I took her to the clinic to check it out, but they were not able to find out the cause. Some time later, a white translucent film appeared over her eyes and she started tearing constantly. I then hurriedly sent her for screening by a specialist," she added.

By the time the doctor ascertained what was wrong with her, Zixuan was found to have fourth stage bilateral retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma is a rapidly developing cancer that develops in the cells of retina, the light-detecting tissue of the eye. In about two thirds of cases, only one eye is affected (unilateral retinoblastoma); in the other third, tumours develop in both eyes (bilateral retinoblastoma).

The cancer is difficult to detect, often resulting in the delay in treatment, doctors said.

It was discovered that the tumour in her right eye was too huge and had to be immediately operated upon. This meant her entire right eye had to be removed. Her left eye, which had a little vision left, required chemotherapy and laser treatment to control the cancer.

Relapse 

Relapse

In total, she went through eight rounds of chemotherapy in Singapore, Madam Pan said. Zixuan was then flown to Canada for further treatment.

Madam Pan revealed that the chemotherapy treatment Zixuan underwent was so strong that the little girl almost lost her life.

She revealed that once, Zixuan almost died when she suffered a severe allergic shock to the medication. She was quickly sent to the intensive care unit, where she battled a swollen respiratory passage and a fever.

"Then, the doctor told me her life was in danger," she said. Fortunately, she managed to pull through and continued her treatment.

In June last year, under the impression that Zixuan's condition had stabilised, Madam Pan made the decision to fly her back to Singapore.

However, within five months of returning home, Zixuan suffered a relapsed.

The cancer cells suddenly became aggressive, forcing the removal of what was left of her left eye - resulting in permanent blindness.

'Wrapped up like a mummy'

Madam Pan said when the family goes out, Zixuan must be "wrapped like a mummy" because of her condition.

Although Zixuan can be considered cured, she is at a high risk of developing other cancers such as cancer of the bone, lung and skin.

Hence great care must be taken in her diet, for her not to touch any chemical supplies and for her not to be exposed to the sun or ultraviolet light.

Doctors have advised Madam Pan that if Zixuan develops a fever, she must be immediately sent to the hospital to check for possible inflammation.

In addition, she should always wear long-sleeved clothes when she goes out, put on sunscreen, wear a hat and use an umbrella.

"Even at home, we must always close the curtains and eat lots of vitamin D," she said.

Shin Min reported that according to doctors interviewed, even if Zixuan fully recovers, her future offspring will have a 50 per cent chance of developing eye cancer.

$37,000 in debt

Madam Pan revealed that she has already spent more than $200,000 on Zixuan's medical expenses. Although the cost of local treatment was covered using money from insurance claims, she still needs to pay an additional $37,000 for the cost of the Canadian treatments.

She has to fork out $1,200 every month under an instalment plan agreement she has with the hospital.

"My husband and I are separated. We get a monthly income of $2,200 from renting out the house.

"However, $600 a month goes towards paying off our housing loans. This is not including the overhead costs of a maid and three children," she said.

She said that although she is very tired, she is glad that her daughter has finally been cured.

Zixuan's right eye has been fitted with a false eye, which her mother described as looking "very natural". A prosthesis has yet to be completed for her left eye.

Since her story was reported, several members of the public have reached out to the family to see if they can offer any help.

For those interested in making a contribution, they can call Shin Min's 24-hour hotlines at 1800-8227-288 or 91918727.

yamadak@sph.com.sg

SERVICES