PE Express

Young boy fights for eyesight as he battles joint disease

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Franco van Wyk (6) went from a healthy little boy to one battling osteoarthritis and being at risk of going blind.
Franco van Wyk (6) went from a healthy little boy to one battling osteoarthritis and being at risk of going blind.
Photo: Supplied

One would think that osteoarthritis would only affect the elderly, due to disintegration of cartilages between bones taking place over a long period of time, but for a six-year-old from Glenroy in Nelson Mandela Bay, this degenerative joint disease is a very painful, life-altering reality.

To make matters worse, Franco van Wyk, a Grade R learner at Newton Park Primary School, recently also developed serious problems with his eyes and could very well go blind.

Franco’s mother, Gillean van Wyk, said that he started complaining about back pain in July this year.

“We immediately thought that it didn’t sound nice for a six-year-old to have back pain, so we took him to our GP, who referred us to a paediatrician, who in turn sent Franco for an emergency MRI,” Van Wyk explained.

“The MRI revealed that Franco has disc degeneration and early onset of osteoarthritis and he was admitted to hospital for further testing.

“The neurosurgeon assigned to his case, said that the next step would usually be surgery, but Franco is too young for such an extensive surgery and the only option for now is to abstain from any strenuous activity,” she added.

Just when Van Wyk and her husband, Renier, thought that the worst was over, Franco came inside the house after playing outside one day and told his mother that his one eye was very blurry.

Thinking that Franco might just need spectacles, his parents scheduled an appointment with an optometrist but were told after the examination that the situation with his eyesight was more severe than they thought. The optometrist then referred them to an ophthalmologist.

After the ophthalmologist ran a series of tests, extensive damage to Franco’s eyesight was confirmed.

His left eye has a visual acuity 0.2 secondary to high myopia and extensive vitreous degeneration with retinal tears. He also has no sight in his right eye.

The left eye also deteriorates by the day as it takes the strain off the right eye.

After two emergency surgeries to save what was left of the right eye and the left eye from total loss of sight, both proved to be unsuccessful because of the extensive damage to his eyes.

After conducting more research, the ophthalmologist recommended the next step: that Franco be tested for Stickler Syndrome since the back problems and eye damage could be connected as both are symptoms of this syndrome.

This, however, has proved to be the greatest challenge of all since it would cost the family R30 000 just to get Franco tested and he can only be treated once tested.

“As parents of what we thought were three healthy kids, this news has been devastating to Renier and me. Franco has always been a happy kid with absolutely no signs or symptoms of poor eyesight or any other genetic disorders.

“We have, from a very young age, given him the nickname, ‘Champ’, because of his strong and courageous personality.

"It was a huge shock for us as parents because as a baby, he was almost never sick. It is also not at all nice for us to limit him from doing certain things, especially since we have told our kids from day one that they are capable of doing everything.

“Boys always want to play and climb onto things and we have to always tell him that he can’t do that,” she said.

According to Van Wyk, Franco is relatively pain-free at the moment because they have limited what he can do in order to ensure that he doesn’t get hurt.

He is also due for further eye surgery soon, meaning that a few rough days lie ahead for the family.

“Franco has been extremely emotional the last few weeks because of all his illnesses. He is struggling to understand why all of this is happening to him and why he needs surgery. We have decided to get him therapy,” she explained.

If anyone would like to donate towards this cause, Van Wyk has created a Facebook page, Help Franco fight for his eyesight, where details and updates of Franco’s condition are shared.

The family also started a GoFundMe Campaign and can be contacted via Facebook or on WhatsApp and Telegram on 0780963213.

The family is willing to share medical records to confirm the legitimacy of Franco’s condition if necessary.

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