Update: 2-year-old Cherokee citizen has eye removed due to retinoblastoma
MCALESTER, Okla. – Hunter Kelley, a 2-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen, is recovering at home from his eye surgery he had on Dec. 10 that left him blind. Kelley suffers from retinoblastoma a rare form of eye cancer affecting mostly children under age 5.
His mother said since his surgery he has adjusted extremely well and she didn’t think it could have gone any better.
“He is doing wonderful. The stitches will come out the last week of January and he will get fitted for a prosthetic in February,” said his mother Kimberly Kelley.
The few problems Hunter’s had since the surgery, Kimberly said, have been mostly due to pain, itching from the healing process and dealing with the darkness. She said he asks several times to turn on the lights—that has been one of the hardest things during this process for her.
She added that he has been playing and becoming more like himself with each day.
On Dec. 5, Hunter received a surprise Santa Claus visit and Christmas party at the Choctaw Nation Community Center so he could have a happy holiday before undergoing the eye surgery.
“We are trying to make the best of a worse situation,” Kimberly said. “We decided to have Christmas early since he wasn’t going to be able to see Christmas.”
Hunter’s surgery was set for Dec. 10 at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., to remove his left eye because of the retinoblastoma. He could only see out of his left eye because tumors in his right eye have blinded it.
Hunter was diagnosed with the disease in April 2010.
The Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Department set up the Santa visit after being told of the situation.
“A deputy sheriff that we don’t even know out of Delaware County wanted to know if we could get a Santa at his party and we said sure,” said Sheriff Joel Kerns. “I’ve known the family their whole lives, and I’m just glad that my people come together to show this boy a great Christmas.”
The department also set up a donation jug. After Kerns told people Hunter’s story, he said they felt obligated to donate.
“Everyone that walked by I had to explain the story, and after they just felt so compelled they had to put money in there.”
He said the jug raised more than $2,000 for the family and presents for Hunter.
Kimberly said the party was about giving Hunter’s family and friends the opportunity to remember him as the fun-loving boy he is.
“Today is just a time for everyone to get together and enjoy their time with Hunter. We want everyone to remember him as a happy and playful…not so much as the child with cancer, but as the boy he has always been,” she said.
According to a Cherokee Phoenix article in July, Hunter’s cancer was under control. However, in November it spread to the fluid of his left eye despite 25 radiation treatments he received during the summer, Kimberly said.
“He had good response about halfway through, and then when we got done with radiation, a week later it was stable and there were no changes. And then four weeks after that, it had spread again. So now we are to our last option of removing his left eye and hoping that the cancer hasn’t spread outside the eye yet,” she said.
Kimberly said doctors would not know if the cancer was contained to the left eye until after the surgery. The right eye has remained stable since his chemotherapy.
“We are hoping it will just stay stable,” she said.
Doctors have not discussed expectations about the surgery because they didn’t want to give the family hope that Hunter would see afterward, she added.
However, the Kelleys are preparing to raise a blind child, which will probably mean moving from McAlester because Hunter will need several therapies.
“There are several schools for the blind. We are going to put him in those programs,” she said.
Hunter’s grandmother, Patricia Politte, said it’s important for him to receive the best care and have the best life possible.
“At this point, however it turns out, (we want him) to get the quality of life that he deserves and the education that he needs to make a good life,” she said.
Politte said since the July article, she’s had people contact her about retinoblastoma and the symptoms. She added that awareness about the disease is important.
“It was right there in the pictures, and if we would have known that white glow…we just didn’t know what it was,” Politte said. “We had no family history, none, and now we are in this situation. Have your babies checked…it’s important.”