An app that can detect signs of eye diseases by scanning photos helped the mom of a 6-year-old boy see the symptoms of a rare eye disorder. She now credits the app with preventing even worse damage to her son’s vision.
Landon Lessman acts like any other curious and playful 6 year old, but he has Coats disease, a blood vessel disorder that left him with limited vision in one of his eyes. His mom, Sarah, said warning signs of the disorder were hard to spot.
“Landon was a little delayed in all of his gross motor and fine motor development,” she said. “He had a really hard time going down and up stairs.”
But four years ago, Lessman noticed a white glare in her son’s left eye in pictures taken with a flash. She thought it was just bad lighting until she started doing some research.
“I’d remember seeing some kind of news article or news report about a little boy having cancer in his eye, and it was caught by a glow in the eye like that,” she said. “My mom alarm bells started going off.”
Lessman downloaded Cradle, an app that scans photos already on your phone for white eye glares, which can be a symptom of Coats disease, cataracts or even a type of eye cancer called retinoblastoma.
The app found several white glares in Landon’s eyes, and a specialist confirmed that he had Coats disease.
“Had I not seen that, I would’ve probably let it go for I don’t know how long,” she said.
Dr. Davinder Grover, Landon’s specialist, said part of why warning signs in children are easily missed is because kids “can function extremely well with tremendous vision loss so they can easily trick people, doctors.”
“They can’t usually trick mom though,” he said. “Usually it’s mom that kind of figures it out.”
Bryan Shaw, a biochemist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, made Cradle with the help of software engineers at the university. He was inspired by the experience of his oldest son Noah, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 4 months old.
Shaw said he remembers seeing unusual glares in pictures of Noah just days after his birth, but didn’t realize that unlike the red eye typically seen in flash photos, a white glow could be a sign of trouble.
By the time Noah’s eye cancer was diagnosed, it was too late to save his right eye.
“If we’d got him in at 12 days old, he wouldn’t have lost his eye, and he wouldn’t have received 30 cycles of proton beam radiation to his remaining eye that we were able to salvage,” Shaw told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.
People started using Cradle “immediately,” Shaw said. “In the first few months, it was downloaded I think about 80,000 times.”
Asked what it’s like to have something he created keep others from going through the pain his son went through, Shaw said, it’s “the best feeling in the world.”
“There’s no better reward, there’s nothing like seeing your technology, your idea, help out another person, in particular a kid,” he said.
Dr. David Abramson with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said that while eye apps can generate false positives, any white glare should be checked out quickly to limit disruption to early vision development.
“With a child who has a cataract for weeks, month or years, even removing that cataract will never restore vision because it was never imprinted into the brain,” Abramson said.
Shaw urged parents to keep taking pictures of their kids and look a little closer at their eyes.
“Take a lot of pictures, and if you see white pupils in your children, don’t panic, don’t be alarmed, but tell your doctor,” he said.