Medical Minute 12-6: The Fight to Save Savannah's Life

By: Melissa Medalie Email
By: Melissa Medalie Email

Savannah Smith is a happy, active two year old. It's hard to imagine she's fighting a childhood eye cancer called retinoblastoma. More than a year ago, large tumors forced the removal of her right eye.

"At first, I guess just like anybody my heart sank but I knew I had to stay strong for her. I didn't cry, I didn't break down I just knew, day at a time," said Courtney Smith, Savannah's Mother.

Now, doctors are closely watching her left eye, attacking her tumors with a unique treatment called plaque radiotherapy. It uses a thin gold disc that looks like a bottle cap with radioactive seeds on one side, it's temporarily sewn onto the eye, with the seeds aimed at the tumor.

"What the plaque allows us to do is to is to deliver a lethal dose of radiation to the tumor, enough radiation to kill the tumor, without exposing the other healthy structures of the eye to large doses of radiation," said J. William Harbour, M.D., Professor of Ophthalmology.

Though plaque therapy is used more commonly in adults, doctors at Washington University School of Medicine say it's showing promise for stopping eye tumors in kids.

for Savannah, the treatment is working.

"She still does have cancer, we're still fighting tumors but she still has her eye and that's the most important thing," said Courtney Smith.

A little girl, winning the fight to keep her sight, one day at a time.

For more information, contact: Judy MartinAssociate Director of Media Relations Washington University School of Medicine(314) 286-

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