Charity Helps Boy Born with Birth Injuries Restore Eyesight

July 4, 2014

A boy born with a neural tube defect can see out of both eyes for the first time in seven years after an Australian charity raised funds to correct his eyesight, leading to a surgery in March that saved his life.

According to reports, 7-year-old Jhonny Laemon was born with a severe neural tube defect that costed him his eyesight in his left eye after a large tumor covered most of his face, leaving his eyes and nose hidden. His brain also protruded from his head at birth, making Jhonny’s prognosis extremely grim. However, since Jhonny was born in The Phillipines, he didn’t have access to the medical technology that could have corrected his conditions a lot sooner.

In 2012, volunteers from the charity Interplast, an organization that sends physicians and medical staff to the Asia-Pacific to help children with birth injuries, set up a donation fund to help Jhonny. A team of medical volunteers were sent to the Phillipines to see Jhonny shortly after.

After assessing the boy’s condition, plastic surgeon James Leong stated that Jhonny has a chance if they can get him back to Australia for treatment. Dr. Leong has been working with Interplast for several years and has volunteered on 13 prior Interplast trips.

As a result, the Children First Foundation planned and organized a trip that brought Jhonny to Australia, along with his mother and 3-month-old brother. The Monash Medical Centre physicians donated their time voluntarily for Jhonny’s surgeries.

According to Dr. Leong, if Jhonny had been born the in the Western part of the world, advanced technology would have picked up on his neural tube defect much earlier, and Jhonny would have been treated within the first year of his life. If Jhonny’s medical condition was put off any longer, he may have developed meningitis, a life-threatening condition.

“If we did nothing, the tumour could have got bigger and out him at risk of infection that could have led to fatal meningitis,” Dr. Leong said. 

After he arrived in Australia this year, Jhonny underwent eight hours of curative surgery performed by Dr. Leong and his medical team. Along with removing Jhonny’s tumor, the team filled his brain tissue with fluid, allowing his eyes to form better, and filled his nose area with cartilage.

Today, Jhonny is excited to return back home soon to see his nine siblings. According to his mother, Mrs. Laemon, during his stay in Australia, not only did the surgery correct his eyesight and health, but he also learned to speak English fluently.

“I cry because I’m very happy,” Mrs. Laemon said. 

Unfortunately, birth defects are one of the leading causes of death in the Philippines. With the underdevelopment of medical advances in the country, several babies die each year due to neural tube defects and other birth injuries.