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

May 22, 2024
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.

14-year-old Robert and his dad joked on the way to their doctor of optometry’s office that they were going to take their time getting the teenager back to school. For them, this was just one of many appointments with different healthcare providers in an attempt to investigate the young boy’s unusual symptoms that had lasted over a year, which now included blurry vision.

Blurry vision had been one of the potential side effects of a medication that Robert had been prescribed by another provider, so the family initially wasn’t concerned and simply lived with the loss of vision. When their optometrist Dr. Barbara Horn conducted an exam, she realized that Robert’s vision wasn’t just blurry, he could barely see hand motion in his left eye, and he had less than half of his vision remaining in his right eye.

Robert, or as she calls him, Robbie, “was 20/150, meaning he could see something with one eye but that in itself is nearly legally blind,” Dr. Horn said. “Experiencing blurry vision from medication is typically caused by the body retaining extra fluids, or being depleted of fluids. While the lens in your eye might shift focus, it shouldn’t cause any peripheral vision loss.”

Dr. Horn additionally conducted scans (similar to an MRI) of the back of his eyes and found his eyeballs were perfectly healthy. When running a visual field test, which measures how wide of an area your eye can see when focused on a central point, she knew the defect was a serious condition in Robert’s brain.

Dr. Horn instructed the family to go directly to the emergency room, where doctors found 3 masses in Robert’s brain. Treatment required an immediate two-hour-long ambulance ride to the nearest children’s hospital where multiple surgeries ensued to identify Robert’s condition. After 5 surgeries in three weeks, the biopsy came back – the diagnosis was three malignant germinoma brain tumors. Robert had brain cancer.

Robert, 14 year old

From the day she met them, Dr. Horn became a part of Robert’s family and communicated with them every day. She fiercely advocated for hope when one of Robert’s medical team told him he’d never regain his vision.

When the family created a GoFundMe for Robert’s medical treatment, Dr. Horn shared their story far and wide with the optometric community, and support came pouring in. To optometrists from around the country, this wasn’t just one family’s story, this is their lives’ mission. Over half of the page’s donations were from optometrists who had never even met the family.

“All eye doctors know how important an eye exam is. People mistakenly still think it’s just to find your glasses prescription, but it’s so much more than that.” Dr. Horn said, “Eye exams are able to detect so many conditions that are not an eye-related disease so we can help patients start treatment early and literally save lives.”

Robert is continuing his treatment with the optometric community behind him.

Dr. Barbara Horn - President of Beach Family Eye Care

Dr. Barbara Horn

Barbara L. Horn, O.D., was first elected as a trustee to the American Optometric Association Board in June 2011 and installed as Immediate Past President during the 2020 Annual Election & Installation. Dr. Horn is a graduate of the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University and a past president of the Michigan Optometric Association (MOA). Dr. Horn is currently a member of the South Carolina Optometric Association and an associate member of the Michigan Optometric Association.

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