News Releases

May 18, 2002

Emory's RB picnic promises a heartwarming celebration of life along with colorful, fun activities for children who have survived RB, cancer of the eye

The fourth annual RB Picnic, coordinated by the Emory Eye Center, will be held from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at WD Thompson Park, off Mason Mill Road in Decatur. This very special event promises a day of fun and celebration for both the young patients and their families who have faced this formerly fatal childhood cancer of the eye called retinoblastoma. RB, which is a tumor of the retina (the back of the eye) can be hereditary or non-hereditary. When hereditary, it can affect both eyes and sometimes other organs of the body, whereas the non-hereditary type will usually only affect one eye. RB mainly affects young children and occurs in one in 20,000 live births. In its most serious form, it can metastasize to other parts of the body, resulting in death. In decades past, RB often meant certain death for these children.
"Over the last 20 to 30 years, with the advent of better chemotherapy, radiation treatment, cryotherapy and laser ablation of early or recurrent tumors, young RB patients' results have almost completely reversed," says Thomas M. Aaberg Sr., director of the Emory Eye Center. "Now the survival rate of this previously fatal disease— in almost all cases— is in the high 90% rate. Today's physicians often have the luxury of concern over saving the eye—not just the child."
On May 18 some 45 to 60 young patients, typically ranging in ages from infancy up to 12 years, and their families come from all over Georgia and the Southeast—and as far away as Bulgaria. That Bulgarian family even schedules their child's annual appointment for the same week so they can be here for this important day. The highly anticipated day of celebration includes clowns, food, a magic show, entertainment from Star Wars "Star Troopers," and Happy Tails pet assisted therapy (among the pets is a Pug dog, blind in one eye, like some of the children who will attend. A generous lunch is provided courtesy Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A.
"I really look forward to this event," says Baker Hubbard, MD, pediatric retinal specialist who treats these children. " It is encouraging to see all the children together in a non-medical atmosphere where we can all relax and enjoy the fun events together,"

"This event is so special because it provides those parents who may have a child newly diagnosed with RB the realization that this disease can have an outcome that is extremely positive," says Rhonda Waldron, diagnostic echographer at the Emory Eye Center, who has organized the RB Picnic each year. "Even in the event that a child has to have an enucleation (eye removal), these parents can see that other children with prosthetic eyes look quite normal—and function in the same ways as other children. By meeting other more experienced parents who have successfully dealt with their child's diagnosis, mothers and dads new to the disease see that there is much to be hopeful about. Their shared experiences are so helpful and meaningful."

"We continue to be thrilled about this event and what it means to these families," says Dr. Aaberg. "Our physicians who deal with these children are increasingly encouraged by today's new treatments and results. It is heartwarming to have one special day of the year to celebrate this wonderful event."

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell


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