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August 19, 2005

Gov. Blagojevich raises awareness about eye abnormalities among newborns
Legislation creates an advisory committee to address newborn eye conditions

SPRINGFIELD –Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed House Bill 480 to educate parents of newborns about potentially damaging eye conditions and what they can do to identify and treat abnormalities early in their child’s life. More than 13,000 Illinois babies were born in 2003 with various birth defects, including eye abnormalities.  If certain kinds of eye abnormalities go undetected or develop shortly after birth, permanent damage may result. 
“A lot of parents and even medical professionals don’t think about babies’ eyesight when they’re assessing the health of newborns.  Unfortunately, babies can be born with eye abnormalities that are not immediately evident, but that can be very serious over time if they aren’t treated,” said Gov. Blagojevich.  “With this new law, we’re creating an advisory committee that will look at ways to make sure parents and doctors know more about the dangers of eye diseases in infants, and have better tools for identifying them early.”
House Bill 480 established the Newborn Eye Pathology Advisory Committee to be organized and appointed by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).  The task force will be required to develop and conduct hospital trainings; develop a referral system for infants with eye abnormalities; develop educational and informational materials and monitor reports dealing with eye pathology status. The Advisory Committee may also consider ways of improving the process in which pediatricians conduct eye exams for infants. 
Pam Bergsma of Lake Worth, Florida lost her 3-year old grandson to retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, because of what she says is the lack of thorough vision screening.   Bergsma has been a crusader for increasing awareness of eye diseases and has discussed the need for improved eye screening legislation with Illinois lawmakers at the national level.
“Too many children have lost their vision needlessly and had their lives jeopardized this year alone because we are not doing the eye dilation exam. Healthy vision should be our children’s birthright. Working together we will fix this for the children of our country and throughout the world,” said Pam Bergsma.  Bergsma also emphasizes the importance of performing the eye exam in a dark environment while using the opthalmoscope to accurately detect eye diseases.
“Early detection and treatment of certain congenital eye anomalies can prevent or minimize vision impairment, blindness and premature death,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director.  “The Committee will be comprised of medical professionals and parents representing families affected by child blindness or other ocular abnormalities.” 
House Bill 480 also requires hospitals to report information on congenital abnormalities or diseases of the eye detected in newborns to the Department’s Adverse Pregnancy Outcome Reporting System (APORS).  APORS is required to maintain the information, including any pertinent information needed for follow-up services.
House Bill 480 was sponsored by Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hindsdale) and Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion).   
“This new law represents a significant victory in the fight against childhood cancer,” Rep. Bradley said. “Improving health care for our youngest citizens is something I continue to fight for, and I thank the governor for approving this measure.  One courageous young boy in my district is proof this new law will help save lives.  This is a real accomplishment and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
“While these kinds of medical problems are rare, it is important for parents and medical staff to be aware of the various conditions that may cause serious eyesight limitations if they progress without treatment,” said Sen. Dillard. “Early diagnosis of eye disease can point to problems before they develop.”
House Bill 480 takes effect January 1, 2006.


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