Emory Mitchell: Lifelong eyecare starts at birth

July 16, 2021
Diagnosed with congenital cataracts (a clouding of the eye's natural lens that is present at birth) when he was just an infant, 12-year-old Emory Mitchell understands firsthand the importance of addressing eye and vision problems early on.
Emory Mitchell

“By doing the job I love, I was able to ensure that Emory would have clear vision for a lifetime and make a difference in his life.” -Cynthia Baker, O.D.

During a routine appointment through the InfantSEE ® program, the Mitchells met Cynthia Baker, O.D., who at first glance thought Emory’s eyes appeared normal. It wasn’t until Dr. Baker was able to conduct a comprehensive eye exam that she discovered a serious issue and was able to refer the family to a specialist to get the help they needed.

Emory’s Treatment

Cataract treatment is based on the level of visual impairment they cause. If a cataract minimally affects vision, or not at all, no treatment may be needed. Patients may be advised to monitor for increased visual symptoms and follow a regular check-up schedule.

“It’s really important if you’re a kid my age to go to the eye doctor and see what you need to have done to your eyes.” -Emory

However, when a cataract progresses to the point that it affects a person's ability to do normal everyday tasks, surgery may be needed. Due to the severity of Emory’s vision, he had his first cataract surgery just days after his initial diagnosis from Dr. Baker. From infancy, Emory was aphakic, a condition in which you're missing the lens of one or both of your eyes, and had to rely on high-powered contact lenses and glasses to help him see. It wasn’t until he was older, that Emory and his parents decided to explore implant surgery. Fortunately, in October 2018, Emory was able to have intraocular lens (IOL) surgeries that were successful. This type of implant uses a tiny, artificial lens that replaces the eye's natural lens during cataract surgery.

Today, Emory sees 20/40 without glasses, which his parents consider “extremely remarkable for a kid who was basically blind.” Although he uses reading glasses to see better at close distances, he has no major issues with his eyes. Because of his experiences, Emory wants to help spread awareness. “It’s really important if you’re a kid my age to go to the eye doctor and see what you need to have done to your eyes.”

Emory's 1st bifocals

Emory after two eye surgeries

21-month Emory and his contacts

Emory loves spending time in the outdoors with his family

Each day, doctors of optometry help patients and their families understand that what they see in their eyes is a picture of their overall health. Even if no eye or vision problems are apparent, at about age 6 months, children should get a comprehensive eye exam with a doctor of optometry. Early detection can ensure babies have the opportunity to develop the visual abilities they need to grow and
learn. Children often don’t know how they should see or feel, and so may not report if something is wrong. If a child’s eyes and vision suffer, so too will their general health and ability to engage in normal childhood activities.

Although it’s been more than a decade since Dr. Baker first treated Emory, she remembers Emory’s story fondly. “It truly warms my heart to know that by doing the job I love, I was able to ensure that he would have clear vision for a lifetime and make a difference in his life.”

As for Emory’s parents, they say that they will forever be grateful to Dr. Baker for helping identify and get Emory the attention he needed at an early stage. They have since become advocates for eye health and always make it a point to mention Dr. Baker in their story and how she and her staff helped them cope through such a trying time in their lives.

InfantSEEInfantSEE ®

InfantSEE ® is a public health program designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an essential part of infant wellness care to improve a child's quality of life.

Under this program, participating doctors of optometry provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment between 6 and 12 months of age free of charge regardless of family income or access to insurance coverage.

Healthy eyes and good vision play a critical role in how infants and children learn to see. If their eyes have problems or their vision is limited—as is the case with at least 25% of school-age children—their ability to participate in sports, learn in school, and observe the world around them may be significantly impaired and they can easily fall behind their peers.

Congenital cataracts in babies

What happens if a baby has congenital cataracts?

A baby with congenital cataracts has clouding in the normally clear lens of one or both eyes. While rare, congenital means that it happens before birth or during a baby's first year of life. The lens is located inside the eye behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. Normally, the lens focuses light on the retina, which sends the image through the optic nerve to the brain. However, if the lens is clouded by a cataract, light is scattered so the lens can no longer focus it properly, causing vision problems. This makes it hard for the brain and eyes to work together, which they must do to develop normal sight and properly control eye movements.

Congenital cataractsSigns and symptoms

  • The center (pupil) of the eye looks gray or white instead of black
  • The whole pupil may look like it is covered with a film
  • A spot on the pupil may be visible

How can parents help?

Without early intervention, congenital cataracts cause "lazy eye" or amblyopia. This condition then can lead to other eye problems such as nystagmus, strabismus and inability to fix a gaze upon objects. These issues can profoundly impact learning ability and personality,  ultimately affecting a child's entire life. Make sure your child has a routine eye exam at age 6 months, again at age three and once again before starting school.

Cynthia Baker, O.D.

Cynthia Baker, O.D.

Cynthia Baker, O.D. is a native of Louisiana, where she has practiced Optometry for more than 30 years. Born in New Orleans, she attended both the University of Southern Mississippi and Louisiana State University for undergraduate work. In 1983, Dr. Baker received her Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. She is past president of the Optometry Association of Louisiana and currently serves as Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry and is a member of the American Optometric Association Political Action Committee. Today, Dr. Baker practices Optometry in Denham Springs, LA and specializes in contact lens fittings and the treatment of ocular diseases. Find an AOA doctor of optometry near you.

Find a Doctor of Optometry

Find a Doctor of Optometry

Patient Stories

One Teen’s Life-changing Diagnosis from an Eye Exam

Robert and his family never expected an eye exam to identify the root of their son’s concerning health problems. What happened next shocked them.

Practicing healthy eye habits for the modern workplace with Cruz

Cruz Corral is a social media content creator and works full time in marketing. Juggling both roles, he finds himself spending long hours in front of a computer and phone screen, which has had an impact on his eye health. After experiencing how these symptoms affect his work and life, Cruz now has a lesson to share with his followers.