Complex Made Simple

Pioneering surgical technique gives baby Savanna sight for the first time

Savanna underwent the pioneering operation at GOSH on January 24th 2015.

Born in Dubai, Savanna Nwodo was just a few weeks’ old when her mother Jennifer realised that something was wrong with her sight.

Savanna’s visual awareness was very poor compared to other babies. She took Savanna to a local hospital in Dubai where she was diagnosed with retinal detachment and retinal ‘dragging’. Jennifer was told that Savanna was legally blind, and there was nothing they could do.

Devastated but not giving up, Jennifer began to conduct her own research online and eventually came to London.

Savannawas diagnosed to have Familial Exudative Vitreo-Retinopathy (FEVR) by Professor Michaelides, an internationally leading expert in genetic (inherited) retinal conditions. Recognising that surgery may be of benefit, he referred Savanna to Mr Chien Wong at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London.

FEVR is a progressive condition that could eventually have left Savanna completely blind. FEVR causes interruption in normal blood vessel development, resulting in the formation of abnormal new blood vessels on the edge of the retina, leading to a ‘dragging’ of the retina and sight-threatening retinal detachment in some cases.

In 2014, Mr Wong introduced endoscopic vitrectomy surgery for babies to the UK. Great Ormond Street Hospital is one of only two centres in the world that offers the specialist treatment. “Savanna had a highly complex retinal detachment in her right eye which meant that the conventional surgical technique for FEVR was not ideal, as the surgical risks were high and her natural lens would have to be sacrificed,” explains Mr Wong. “With this new micro surgical technique, I was able to precisely and safely operate on Savanna’s retinal detachment as well as importantly being able to preserve her lens.”

Under the care of Mr Wong, Savanna underwent the pioneering operation at GOSH on January 24th 2015. The operation took four hours and Savanna’s parents were able to take her home that same day.

“We come back to GOSH for regular check-ups to monitor her eyesight and have been using a patch and simple exercises to strengthen her right eye,” explains Jennifer.

“So far it’s amazing, she is much better. She can play with her sister and run around, which is a big deal for us.”

Mr Wong noted “Savanna has done very well considering the complexity of her condition and the very young age at which she required surgery. This was only possible because of state-of-the-art endoscopic vitreoretinal surgical technique. It is very encouraging that her parents have already noticed significant improvement in her vision.”

Jennifer praised the hospital for the treatment her daughter received. “The nursing staff on Bumblebee Ward (where Savanna was treated) were all very supportive and professional. My seven month old baby was going into surgery and it was a very difficult time for me, but the team on the ward were very kind and understanding. We’ve had a great experience with all of the medical staff at GOSH, and especially Mr. Wong himself.”

Mr. Wong is a world expert in paediatric vitreoretinal surgery, endoscopic vitrectomy in babies and young children and paediatric retinovascular diseases.

Mr. Wong regularly lectures and speaks at national and international conferences, and is the director of the course “Paediatric Vitreoretinal Surgery: Current and Future Treatments” at the American Academy of Ophthalmology – the largest Ophthalmology meeting. Mr Wong regularly collaborates with leading specialists in the field as he attempts to improve the outcomes of paediatric vitreoretinal surgery worldwide. He also works with the Armenian Eye Care Project, a California non-profit organisation, to develop a tertiary paediatric vitreoretinal centre for the children of Armenia and surrounding former Soviet states.

Great Ormond Street Hospital in London is recognised as one of the few truly world-class hospitals for children. As a global leader, GOSH has top clinical and research experts working every day to find new and better ways to treat children. While breakthroughs and medical expertise are essential to the treatment of patients, GOSH also places great emphasis on the support and care provided for children by nurturing an open and supportive atmosphere, ensuring that parents and patients are well informed and closely involved in the treatment process. Children receive the highest standards of care and attention from the expert team of medical and support staff during their stay at GOSH, and are always treated with respect, trust, concern and openness.