McKinley’s Lifesaving Journey with Dean McGee Eye Institute

When their daughter McKinley began showing signs of a dangerous eye condition, John and Kourtney Norton were sick with concern. Unsure of their next steps, they were referred to the Dean McGee Eye Institute (DMEI) for the care that saved McKinley’s life.

Symptoms of a Serious Eye Problem

At 18 months old, McKinley’s eye was beginning to show symptoms that something was wrong. At first, Kourtney thought McKinley had a “lazy eye”, but then her small daughter started to show signs of pain in the same area.

McKinley’s eye pain was first diagnosed as an eye infection. After following orders and using antibiotics for treatment, her eye did not improve and the pain remained. While visiting family, Kourtney noticed McKinley’s eye had a “golden orb” when the sun shined on it. Knowing this was abnormal, she began to research what this could mean.

Through her online research, she believed McKinley had Coat’s disease, a rare disease that causes full or partial blindness, or retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that starts in the eye and rapidly spreads to the brain or other body parts.

It was then that the family knew they needed an expert opinion. They contacted an ophthalmologist who, after an examination of McKinley’s eye, immediately referred them to a specialist at DMEI.

Meeting with a DMEI Doctor

At DMEI, an ultrasound showed a tumor in McKinley’s eye. John and Kourtney met with Dr. Brain K. Firestone, who confirmed that McKinley had retinoblastoma. The rapidly spreading cancer had doubled the size of her tumor within days of her diagnosis. Dr. Firestone and his team of caregivers needed to act quickly and McKinley’s left eye was immediately removed through surgery.

After her eye removal, McKinley received a spinal tap and other testing to determine if the cancer had spread beyond her eye. Results came back negative, but she still faced six months of chemotherapy.

Throughout the entire surgical and testing process, the DMEI staff was there to support McKinley’s parents, who were nervous and fearful for their baby daughter. Whether it was to calm their fears or answer questions, someone was there to listen.

“Dr. Firestone’s secretary, Megan, answered calls from me 20 times a day but never became frustrated,” Kourtney says.

McKinley continued chemotherapy through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her second birthday. Though the treatments made her sick, her parents took extra care to make sure she could feel like a kid. From a trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s to bouncy pink tutus, her parents made sure she could have time for fun in between treatments. She completed chemo in June 2017. John and Kourtney were thrilled their once very sick child was thriving again.

Receiving a Prosthetic Eye

After her surgery to remove her eye, McKinley was fitted for a prosthetic implant by a DMEI specialist. Nancy Lambert, DMEI’s ocularist, creates customized, extremely realistic prosthetic eyes for patients. She created McKinley’s new eye with such expert care that John and Kourtney were amazed.

“I had no idea what went into making a prosthetic eye,” Kourtney says. “We thought it would be just a standard brown eye…It was done with love and care and is a masterpiece, like a Picasso painting. It looks so real most people can’t tell which eye is prosthetic.”

McKinley’s prosthetic will need adjustments as she grows, but Kourtney looks at these appointments with uplifting positivity.

“Each visit, they add more acrylic to the prosthetic as McKinley grows,” Kourtney says. “You can see where each layer has been added. It marks how much she has grown. It is good therapy for me. It means my baby is growing and healthy.”

How You Can Help Patients Like McKinley

McKinley is now cancer-free, but her parents know that they’ll always need to pay attention to her condition.

“It is so important that we have resources available to us in case it comes back,” John says. “We want Dean McGee Eye Institute to be here in case McKinley needs them again or in case someone else’s child, parent, or grandparent needs them. We hope people will give generously.”

Since 1975, DMEI has been committed to serving all Oklahomans and the global community through excellence and leadership in patient care, education, and vision research. As a nationally top-ranked institute, we’re able to provide much-needed services that are otherwise unavailable in the region, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

Generous support from donors like you allows the staff at DMEI to provide lifesaving care. You can help us provide care for more patients like McKinley through your end-of-year giving–or any time of year when you’re able to make a financial donation.

We need you in this the fight to prevent blindness and provide life-changing care. Give the gift of sight this holiday season!

Donate Today!



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