GARDNERVILLE - When 5-year-old Indian Hills resident Trisha Tompkins had an exam before surgery to save the vision in her right eye, doctors found that the socket in her left eye, which has no vision, was deteriorating. The structure of her face was folding in over the eye.
She was fitted for a prosthesis to help maintain the integrity of her left eye socket early last week and the improvement has already been dramatic, according to Trisha's mom, Renee Harmon.
"She looks like another little girl," Harmon said. "It's amazing."
Trisha was born with retinal coloboma syndrome, a genetic disorder that has left her with only limited vision in her right eye and blind in her left eye. The left eye has been partially closed since birth and that has been getting worse over time, but everything changed after the prosthetic eye was inserted, Harmon said.
"Overnight, her eyelid started staying open," she said. "Her eye looks normal and stays open. She looks like any other little girl."
Surgery may still be necessary to prevent any deformity in Trisha's face as she grows, but doctors have adopted a wait-and-see approach. A surgery will be scheduled to tie the eye muscles together and if necessary doctors will reshape the socket, thereby allowing the face to develop normally, Harmon said.
"She will have deformities if it isn't corrected," Harmon said.
Trisha is being treated at the University of California at Davis and Harmon spoke from the Sacramento area, where she has undergone extensive exams.
The prosthetic eye costs $27,000 and thus far Trisha's insurance, Medicaid SSI, has stated they will not cover the cost because this is considered a cosmetic procedure, Harmon said.
"The doctors here have submitted a letter to the insurance company saying this is not just a cosmetic issue," Harmon said. "The prosthetic helps Trisha's eyelid and socket, but we don't know what's going to happen."
Trisha will need another surgery for a retinal transplant to improve the vision in her right eye, but that surgery has been postponed until August. None of this is easy for a spirited 5-year-old like Trisha and the August surgery will be even more challenging.
The procedure is expected to take about 12 hours and Tricia must hold her head still for a week afterward, to allow the retina to heal properly.
The surgery to replace the retina has some risk. About 10 percent of these patients eventually become blind, but doctors think Trisha's vision is failing. Without the surgery she could be blind by the time she turns 15, Harmon said.
Retinal coloboma syndrome can manifest in many ways, affecting other organ systems including the kidneys, heart and nervous system, but Trisha's impaired vision has been her only symptom thus far, Harmon said.
The bills are starting to mount for this single mother and the fight will be protracted. It's difficult to find an employer who will allow her to take the time she needs right now to take care of her daughter. Friends of the family are coming together to help with expenses in the coming months, according to family friend Dawn Walter.
"Trisha gets disability for regular bills, but there are a lot of others. It makes things real difficult," Walter said.
An account has been set up at U.S. Bank in Gardnerville for Trisha, No. 153752269750. Anyone wishing to contribute can write the checks to Trisha Tompkins or Tina Daniels at Creekside Bookkeeping. For information, call Daniels at 782-4124.
• Contact reporter Susie Vasquez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 211.