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Rare disease that could cause blindness

July 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
At 3 years old Julia Fong was diagnosed with pediatric uveitis, a disease that can cause blindness, and her parents had no idea she had it.

"Because you don't see any outward symptoms, you assume everything is OK and that may not be the case," said Eileen Fong, Julia's mother.

When Julia was about two, her parents got hit with the news she had juvenile idiopathic arthritis. In some cases, the inflammation experienced with arthritis can affect the child's eyes. A year later they found out their youngest daughter could lose her sight forever.

"Conceivably she could go blind, that fear is a parent's greatest nightmare," said Julia's father, Milton Fong.

Dr. David Chu is a pediatric uveitis expert at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark. His specialty is rare, and so are his patients. There are just over 2,000 new cases in the u-s each year.

"It is not a common disease, but the consequences can be severe," said Dr. Chu.

The key is treatment, and fast.

"We need to make sure the inflammation does not act up and damage the eye beyond repair," said Dr. Chu.

Julia, now 10, is on intravenous anti-body drugs. Other treatments for the disease can include steroids and even chemotherapy. They help control the immune system and keep inflammation down.

The hope is, with continued treatment, Julia will be cured and able to see everything life has to offer.

Statistics show at any given time approximately 115,000 children are affected by pediatric uveitis in the United States. Doctors urge parents to watch for flu-like symptoms and limping, and to take their children in for annual vision checks to help catch uveitis and other eye problems.

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