Afra Ebrahim, who was diagnosed with leukocoria (white pupil) in her left eye, after having her left eye completely removed in a successful surgery in UK Image Credit: Courtesy Afra Ebrahim's family

Dubai: Thanks to an outpouring of support from Gulf News readers a baby girl diagnosed with a rare type of eye cancer has received life-saving surgery in the United Kingdom.

Afra Ebrahim, a one-year-old baby girl, was diagnosed with leukocoria (white pupil) in her left eye when she was eight months old. Doctors at Tawaam Hospital in Al Ain then diagnosed her with retinoblastoma, a rapidly developing cancer.

Afra’s mother told how she spotted her daughter’s extremely rare cancer after her eye began to glow.

Umm Afra told Gulf News that she started to notice tears in Afra’s eyes when she was only eight months old, although she was not crying. She added her eyes reflected a kind of light in the dark. Her left eye began to look shiny, due to a tumour called a retinoblastoma.

Umm Afra noticed the shine in her baby’s eye when Afra turned her head at an angle, unaware that she was looking at a potentially deadly disease.

Afra’s parents, who both work for Sharjah Police, have been fighting their daughter’s illness ever since. They had hoped to save her eye but doctors said the eye should be removed, otherwise the cancer could spread to her brain.

Two months ago Gulf News published Afra’s parents’ plea for financial help in order to send their daughter for treatment in a specialised hospital in UK.

Umm Afra, who had no money to treat her baby, was advised to visit Tawam Hospital’s oncology department to seek medication.

Afra’s doctor Stefan Scholtz, consultant, Ophthalmology Division at Tawaam Hospital, recommended Moorfields Eye Hospital in London to treat Afra.

After highlighting the plea of baby Afra’s parents, Shaikha Manal Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Women’s Establishment and Gulf News readers helped baby Afra to get treatment in the UK.

Afra travelled with her mother and father to the UK in mid-July.

“I sobbed my heart out when they told us that my baby was suffering from a rare cancer,’ said Umm Afra. “Doctors said we were very lucky to spot it.”

The baby underwent the operation at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital late last month. It was carried out by Dr Mandeep Sagoo, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Dr Andrew Hamon Presland.

Dr Sagoo said it was too late to save Afra’s left eye so it was removed so the tumour would not spread into her brain and her other eye.

He said retinoblastoma is easily treated if caught early, failing to remove the eye in time can cause it to spread down the optic nerve.

The doctor added as Afra’s cancer was retained within her eye, she didn’t have to undergo any follow-up treatment such as chemotherapy.

He said that Afra will be given an artificial eye and as she gets older and her eye socket expands she will need several replacements for her artificial eye.

Afra’s artificial eye will be fitted so that the nerve endings can be attached to it. It’s a small porous ball with a shell fitted on top of, like a big contact lens, he added.

“It seemed difficult and it was tough making the decision to take out our daughter’s eye, but it meant the cancer would be totally gone. Doctors told us that the artificial eye will be very realistic and they will make it look as good as possible for Afra,” Afra’s father said.

According to doctors, retinoblastoma generally develops in children under the age of five, however, some are born with it.

It develops in the cells of the retina, the light-sensitive lining of the eye.

Symptoms of retinoblastoma can include an abnormal appearance of the pupil, which tends to reflect light as a white reflex.