MIAMI (CBS4) – One out of every nine babies in the U.S. is born prematurely which could to lead to health complications including serious vision problems.

But a team of doctors from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Holtz Children’s Hospital are helping ‘preemies’ from going blind.

“We came on an emergency flight in January from Ecuador. My wife needed to deliver as an emergency with a C-section,” said Peter Julius.

Twins Oliver and Derek were born early, very early, at 24 weeks with a fairly common disease their new parents had never heard of. It’s called ROP or Retinopathy of Prematurity.

So how serious was it?

Vessels inside the retina of the eye are not fully developed. Left untreated, the retina gets detached and causes blindness.

“The retina is like the film of the camera. So you need the retina in order for the brain to see the image that you are looking at,” said Dr. Nina Berrocal.

Berrocal, an ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer and part of a special ROP team at Holtz Children’s Hospital, screens premature babies for ROP.

“Timely screening is essential in this disease and it’s very aggressive when you see it,” said Berrocal. “You have to treat it within 72 hours.”

“One of the babies (Derek) they reviewed once a week,” said Julius, “The other one (Oliver) got injected in the eye.”

Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit sees over a thousand premature babies a year and approximately 90% develop some form of ROP.

Oliver and Derek were discharged from the NICU after five months but they’ll be back. Follow up is important for parents to remember.

“Right when the babies are getting better, the ROP starts and then I have to come in and tell parents who have survived really weeks of hell, tell them we have a glitch here, we have now a disease inside the eyes that can lead to blindness.”


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