March 13, 2023

Alex: A Child’s Story of Vision Loss

- Harmony Elliott

Susan's Son Alex at a young age playing with a toy

At just 10 months old Alex was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare infant eye cancer. During a life-saving surgery in which his right eye was removed doctors found an additional tumor in Alex’s left eye. This tumor was significantly smaller and in the non-seeing part of Alex’s eye but close monitoring was necessary to ensure the tumor did not grow. Consequently, for the next five years Alex had to be seen regularly by specialist to control the tumor. At first, when he was young, these visits were monthly and each one required him to be put under anesthesia. As he got older the visits shifted to bimonthly and then eventually he was given the all-clear.

Susan and her son Alex as a toddler

“He is very integrated,” explains Alex’s mom, Susan.

Alex’s journey has allowed him to experience things as someone who is blind and sighted but ultimately he has been living with a visual impairment his entire life. Both Alex and his family found comfort in the community they had created, surrounded by people and families who had similar experiences. This open and honest dynamic is something Alex’s mom Susan tries to emulate in NH ParentConnect, recognizing how important it was to her family’s success.

Despite being surrounded by support, Alex’s childhood was not perfect. Alex was a school-aged child with one eye, and other kids knew it. Luckily, Alex embraced adversity with humor. “On the school bus kids would tease him and he would pop his eye out,” Susan said with a chuckle. “He has a great sense of humor.”

The other thing Alex had was determination, never letting his disability slow him down. In high school Alex’s guidance counselor told him his dream school was out of his league. Susan remembers their car ride home from that meeting. “I told him if he really wanted it, he should try,” she said. “You never know if you don’t try, and you can’t let other people tell you what you can’t do.”

Susan & AlexAlex tried and was accepted early admission into Cornell University. During college, he spent his summers the way many students do – having fun. Unlike most students, his fun consisted of interning for research doctors in Hong Kong, volunteering in Peru for the National Association for the Blind, and digging water ditches in Togo, Africa.

Before graduating Magna Cum Laude, with honors, in neuroscientific research, Alex approached his mom with a new dream. “He comes to me and says, I want to be a doctor, mom,” Susan says with a smile. “His professor came to me and said, someone needs to tell your son he can’t be a doctor because he’s visually impaired.”

When Susan tried to talk to Alex about the pushback he might face when pursuing this dream, Alex had one thing to say. Susan recalls, “he said, what! No one can tell me whether I can be a doctor or not. I want to be a doctor.”

Alex was accepted into Rush Medical School in Chicago. He completed his residency at the University of Vermont before becoming an Emergency Medicine doctor. Susan explains, “It was the proudest moment of my life when he graduated. When they handed him the diploma, I gasped. It took my breath away and then I cried.”