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Actress fights to save daughter's eyesight

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Heather and KatyaTylo
Hunter Tylo with her daughter Katya.

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(CNN) -- Actress Hunter Tylo is best known for her role on the fictional daytime drama, "The Bold and the Beautiful." Soon after the birth of her daughter, Katya, Tylo experienced her own real-life drama -- the fight to save her newborn's eyesight from a rare but potentially fatal cancer.

The symptoms began to show when Katya was only 2 weeks old.

"She was not a wonderful baby," Tylo recalls. "She was crying. She was showing signs of something that was painful."

Attributing Katya's crying to colic, Tylo and her husband, Michael, delayed visiting the doctor, despite some troubling signs.

"I looked down at her and I saw something milky white beneath the black part of the pupil. When she turned her head a little, it made a red flash, similar to the way a pet looks."

Tylo is describing a common characteristic in babies stricken with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye that annually afflicts 8,000 children worldwide. A doctor later confirmed the diagnosis and explained the treatment.

"He told me that she would be getting surgery within four days to remove an eye, if it was indeed as bad as he thought. He said that the remaining eye, if we can save it, is going to require several months of chemotherapy."

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Tylo was aware of the possibility that her daughter might die.

"I definitely knew that was a danger. This cancer grows so rapidly that if one cell gets into the optic nerve, it will go directly to the brain. If it goes outside the globe of the eye, there's really little chance of saving the child."

Fortunately, Katya was saved, but her right eye was not. Today, Tylo says her daughter is cancer-free and happy, but that's not enough for the outspoken actress. In addition to starting Retinoblastoma International with her husband in 1998, she was successful in helping to pass legislation in her home state of California.

"It will go into effect in January of 2003 ... babies will get their pupils dilated and checked as part of the six-week wellness exam."

For parents everywhere, Tylo offers this advice: "You cannot take your children's eyesight for granted and anything you can do to get their eyes checked as early as possible, I would strongly advise it."

With early detection, retinoblastoma cases like Katya's can be successfully treated.


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