December 6, 1996

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -

Even the most delicate and grueling eye surgery comes nowhere near the difficulty ophthalmologists face when they must tell a mother her baby will be blind for life. Absolutely nothing can compare.

Not long ago, Emory University eye surgeon Paul Sternberg, M.D., was preparing himself for this daunting task. Doctors had done all they could to save the sight of a tiny, premature girl - but to no avail. They had applied a freezing probe (cryotherapy) to the abnormal blood vessels causing the baby's severe case of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). But - as is true in 50 percent of cases - the treatment failed. As a last ditch effort, Dr. Sternberg decided to try a new laser treatment which showed promising results at other medical centers.

"We felt we had nothing to lose," he says. "To our astonishment, it worked."

Rarely does a medical advance yield such dramatic results. Since that first success, Dr. Sternberg, Anthony Capone, M.D., and other members of the Emory Eye Center retina team have toted the 20-pound diode laser to neonatal units all over Atlanta, saving the sight of an "incredible" 90 percent of all ROP infants treated.

"We have been treating an average of 400 babies a year from Georgia and surrounding Southeastern states," Dr. Capone says. "The laser appears to be particularly suited to the treatment of the most immature eyes - usually those with the worst prognoses."

Ironically, the advanced neonatal techniques used to save the lives of these delicate preemies contribute to the incidence of ROP. Twenty-four- and- 25-week-old babies are being delivered before the retina is fully developed - and the high oxygen levels necessary to maintain their underdeveloped lungs may actually trigger the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. In one of every 100 premature babies, this leads to detachment of the retina and blindness.

Cryotherapy allows surgeons to freeze the inner eye with a liquid nitrogen probe and "burn" away some of the abnormal retina, decreasing the likelihood of detachment. The diode laser, however, allows surgeons to pinpoint and destroy the aberrant areas on the periphery of the retina. The process is more precise, less painful and requires less recovery time than cryotherapy.

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, call Health Sciences News and Information at 404-727-5686, or send e-mail to

Copyright ©Emory University, 1996. All Rights Reserved.
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