The Whitathon

Posted on 2021-04-23

It is hard to believe that in a country of one billion people, at least 25%- 30% of the retinoblastoma cases each year in India find their way to Dr. Swathi Kaliki at the world-renowned LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) in Hyderabad. Dr. Kaliki is an ophthalmologist specializing in ocular oncology and her passion for raising awareness of retinoblastoma and her determination that no child should needlessly lose their vision as a result of retinoblastoma is channeled through her back-breaking schedule at LVPEI where she devotes 3 days to research and 3 days to clinical work each and every week. Dr. Kaliki explained to KnowTheGlow Co-Founder Megan Webber, that 90% of retinoblastoma cases are in the 0-3 age group and she questions everyday if enough is being done to ensure early detection of this eye cancer. 

They have tried to train the anganwadi (community workers promoting child growth and development) and teachers to detect, but there isn’t a robust training to screen all of the children.  Pediatricians are more and more being trained to be aware of retinoblastoma so that they will refer the child to an ocular oncologist.  Dr. Kaliki, however, stresses that unless we get children the proper fundus screening with every pediatrician visit, it is going to be hard to catch it in time. Typically, these children present  as stage b or c tumors by the time they come through her door and saving the eye becomes an issue, but the survival rate is 90% which is promising. 

At LVPEI 50% of the services and procedures are performed free of charge to the patient. Many individuals and organizations have come forward to support the treatment of children who cannot afford to pay, but still a lot more needs to be done.

For these and many other reasons, the Whitathon was initiated by Dr. Kaliki at LV Prasad Eye Institute  in 2018 as a way to raise awareness on early detection of eye cancer (Retinoblastoma) and  to educate people on the most common symptom of eye cancer- white reflex in the child’s eye  which can be a sign of eye cancer.   Dr. Kaliki stresses that unless the parent is aware that they have to keep a watch on their child’s eyes and recognize that something is wrong, they will not catch it in time.  The funds raised from the Whitathon Run will be utilized for treating poor children suffering from retinoblastoma free of cost, and to provide resources for future research to explore new treatment options for this alarming disease.  The message about early detection and treatment of eye cancer in children needs to be continuously reinforced among people, and the annual Whitathon event is the harbinger of this message. 

Both is 2018 and in 2019 they were successful with a total of 5000 runners, but then Covid paralyzed any type of activities and they were unable to have a run last year in 2020.  This year Dr. Kaliki said they are in preparations to take the Whitathon virtual and are partnering with people from around the world.  The virtual Whitathon will take place during RB awareness week May 9-16, and this year has walking and cycling in addition to running.  The event will be  open for the entire week and people will be encouraged to register and actively participate in the event – anyone, anywhere can participate.  Dr. Kaliki doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to raise awareness of RB and raise funds for RB children.

Virtual Registration  for the Whitathon can be done via cykul.com/lvpei  and Dr. Kaliki encouraged the KTG community to sign up and support the Whitathon.  The children of India are fortunate to have Dr. Kaliki at the forefront at LVPEI shining a light on early detection and awareness of retinoblastoma.  

Dr. Swathi Kaliki is Head of the Department of Ophthalmic Plastic & Facial Aesthetic Surgery, Orbit & Ocular Oncology Head, OEU Institute for Eye Cancer at LVPEI

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