In the valley at the base of the Venezuelan Andes mountains is the town of Merida and the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA), the second oldest university in Venezuela. It is also home to Dr. Fabiola López, a pediatric ophthalmologist who received her medical training and sub-specialty in Pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus at the ULA. KnowTheGlow Co-Founder, Megan Webber, with the translation aid of Amanda Hernandez, (mother to a child with Retinoblastoma in Canada), was eager to meet the young doctor behind the amazing Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/oftalmotips_/ (@oftalmotips_) sharing valuable information and awareness of Retinoblastoma and the Glow. Megan learned that it was a friend of Dr. López and also her sister who urged Fabiola to promote her work in the field of pediatric ophthalmology via her social network platform. She told Megan that it felt awkward at first; she was always so busy dedicated to her patients who in many cases could barely afford transportation even to get to her for the necessary medical treatment. However, she now realizes that it has been a critical educational tool, not only for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds but also for other doctors, especially pediatricians, who have reached out to her with questions after seeing her posts. This is why she thinks it is important to reach the young medical students when they are starting out. While there is a rotation in medical school in ophthalmology, there is not much emphasis on leukocoria and how the detection of it can be a symptom of so many eye conditions — two of the most dangerous being Retinoblastoma and Coats’ Disease.
Dr. López works at the Hospital Universitario de Los Andes (a public Hospital) and additionally has a private practice in Merida, Venezuela. The hospital has a Pediatric Oncology department that works closely with Retinoblastoma patients but the hospital does not offer cryotherapy and if the patient needs intraocular chemotherapy they are sent to see Dr. Livia Romero in Caracas (https://knowtheglow.org/dr-livia-romero/). Dr. López explained to Megan that in many cases, by the time the child gets to her, they have been to see several doctors beforehand and have fallen victim to improper referrals causing far too much time to pass since the child’s initial symptoms were discovered. Sometimes the retinoblastoma has progressed to the point of being orbital and the only option then is enucleation. Fortunately, in some cases of bilateral retinoblastoma, one eye may require enucleation but there’s still hope to save the second eye and its vision. She confirmed to Megan that she had seen many patients who initially took their child to see a doctor as a result of seeing a glow in photos or a reflection in their child’s eye. Before Covid-19, her hospital, along with the NGO Primeros Auxilios ULA, was quite successful in providing vision screenings and they were able to see many patients from the surrounding community. While they did not necessarily find Retinoblastoma cases during those screenings they did find many of the other glow-related conditions needing attention.
We applaud Dr. López and her work and her incredible advocacy regarding the prevention of childhood blindness! We are inspired by her efforts and we look forward to working with and beside her finding even more ways to spread awareness of the Glow in Venezuela to families there in both rural and urban communities.