NEW ORLEANS -- Twenty years ago, Alexa Feurtado was born with cataracts and glaucoma and she had to have surgery as a baby to fix her eyes.
But recently when she went to have her eyes checked, she happened to bring her new born with her, and that's when her doctor discovered the same problem in the next generation.
It's the most common surgery in the world, removing cataracts, those cloudy lenses in the eyes. But when the patient is your little girl, a four-month-old baby, feelings get clouded with emotions.
"I was scared and I was crying because I felt so bad that she would have to go through what I went through," said Feurtado.
What mom Alexa went through at only five-months-old, is the exact same thing daughter Ily Fricano is facing on this day, with the same doctor. Tulane Surgeon and Chairman of Ophthalmology, Dr. Delmar Caldwell and his team put Ily to sleep. Then, through a small incision, he removed the natural lens of the eye because it is cloudy and Ily could only see light. Then he put in a new clear, artificial lens in it's place - one that will stay with Ily for the rest of her life, a century if she lives that long. And that's what's different today. When her mom had the surgery with Dr. Caldwell 20 years ago, no artificial lens was put back in. Back then, doctors waited until she was 17 to perform that procedure, when her eyes were fully grown. So Alexa spent her childhood and adolescence in thick glasses and contact lenses.
"I was teased a lot, especially with the bifocal glasses, because they made my eyes look really big. "I never wanted to go to school because of it, never really had much friends," Feurtado said sadly.
But after 20 years of following patients, doctors at Tulane were able to come up with a formula to closely predict what size and shape a baby's eyes will be when they stop growing at 17.
And Dr. Caldwell says there is a small window of opportunity to fix a baby's eyes because sight, early in life, is important for the brain to develop properly.
"The earlier that you get the cataracts off, the better the chances that they are going to see later on," Dr. Caldwell explains.
He says being able to give patients of any age the gift of sight is wonderful. But two weeks ago when he fixed Ily's other eye, he got emotional witnessing her reaction when the first patch came off.
"She started looking around and looked up to the ceiling and things and then she started giggling and it was really something," said the doctor with tears in his eyes.
"It was amazing because she never did that before," Feurtado said.
Ily's father, Frank Fricano, Junior, says Ily got her name from the abbreviation her parents use when they text each other 'I love you.' Now she can see that love expressed by the smiles on their faces.
Ily might not need to wear glasses, but if she does, they will have regular lenses as opposed to the special thick ones her mother had to wear.