‘Eyes of the Future’

By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The healthy development of the eyes of children – the eyes of the future – is important. Not only are their young eyes taxed with visual activities, but their vision system continues to grow and develop until about the start of their teenage years.

Pediatric Ophthalmologist Charles R. Whitfill, MD, joined Grene Vision Group in 2005.

Charles R. Whitfill, MD, the only pediatric ophthalmologist with Grene Vision Group, serves not only the Wichita area where the practice is headquartered, but also much of Kansas, with the exception of the northeastern part of the state. Occasionally patients are referred to him from neighboring state Oklahoma.

“The staples of my practice are strabismus, amblyopia and reduced vision from different classifications of those conditions,” says Dr. Whitfill, who joined Grene Vision Group in 2005 and is board-certified with specialty training in not only pediatric ophthalmology but in adult strabismus as well. He provides both medical and surgical eye care for children.

Strabismus is the misalignment of eyes, while amblyopia occurs when one of the eyes and the brain aren’t working together properly. The surgical care Dr. Whitfill provides includes eye muscle surgery, removal of pediatric cataracts, and blocked tear ducts and minor oculoplastic procedures in children. Among the more common surgical procedures he performs are unblocking tear ducts and eye muscle surgery to help correct misalignment.

“Pediatric eye disorders are different than adult eye disorders,” Dr. Whitfill notes. “Pediatric patients are not tiny adults. Even the eye exam can be much more traumatic for a child, with shining bright lights in the eyes and dilation of the eyes. You need a certain level of skill to interact with children to make them as comfortable as possible and to communicate and explain to parents what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Pediatric ophthalmology was the first subspecialty of ophthalmology, started in the early 1940s when a Washington, D.C. ophthalmologist decided to focus on pediatric patients and realized the unique needs of treating vision problems for children, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. When asked why he limited his practice to pediatrics, founder Dr. Frank C. Costenbader reportedly replied, “Kids are just more fun.”

That’s the same sentiment Dr. Whitfill says he had when he completed his three-month rotation in pediatric ophthalmology during residency at St. Louis University. He discovered it was fun to work with kids. He completed a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus at Emory University in 2000. Before joining Grene Vision Group, Dr. Whitfill had been in private practice in Longview, Texas.

“The eyes of our children are the eyes of our future,” Dr. Whitfill says, according to his biography on the Grene Vision Group website. “It is of the utmost importance to me to optimize the vision and visual function of every child I see to help them reach their potential in life.”

Patients with strabismus not only struggle with vision issues but other issues as well. Studies show that the condition affects one’s quality of learning and even the ability to get a job. Bullying and other social stresses are more common as well among younger patients with strabismus and are happening with younger and younger patients, Dr. Whitfill says.

While it’s a rare occurrence, young patients can present with eye symptoms that are the result of more serious conditions, such as a malignant growth in the retina (retinoblastoma).

“I find more brain tumors in children than I care to find,” he says. Strabismus and nystagmus, a condition where the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements, can be the result of a brain tumor.

Physicians or optometrists who observe abnormalities during a red reflex test of a child’s eyes should make a referral to a pediatric ophthalmologist such as Dr. Whitfill. The test can reveal problems with the cornea, lens, the vitreous or retina.

“If the red reflex looks white, they should notify us within 24 hours to get in as soon as possible,” Dr. Whitfill says. “It can be as innocent as a congenital cornea scar or it can be more serious such as a cataract or retinal lesion such as retinoblastoma.”

While it’s common for young infants to have misaligned eyes up until about age 3 months, a lingering misalignment should be seen by a specialist, he says. Spot vision tests or other screening devices, such as those performed at a primary care physician’s office or even during a school screening, can often identify problems with eye alignment that should be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist for diagnosis.

Ocular Melanoma Hits Home

With a career in the healthcare industry for more than 25 years, Bret Marcotte knows that when a physician calls with test results and asks if someone from your family is there to support you, the results are likely not good.

In late December 2016, Marcotte’s teenage daughter, Isabel, had a small growth surgically removed from her left eye by Charles R. Whitfill, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist with Grene Vision Group.

“It looked like a mole growing on her eye,” Marcotte recalls. “It started as a small speck but then there was a vascular structure supporting it. My dad had a similar mole on his eyelid and I thought it was just genetic. But it wasn’t.”

Pathology results showed the growth was a form of melanoma, known as ocular melanoma, that is uncommon among pediatric patients.

By the time Dr. Whitfill called Marcotte with the results about a week after Isabel’s surgery, he had arranged for Isabel to undergo a second surgery to ensure enough of the area beneath the growth was removed to stop the spread of the cancer. Dr. Whitfill had procured the services of a top eye surgeon at the Cole Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic for the surgery.

Isabel continues to be regularly monitored by Dr. Whitfill, as well as a dermatologist, to check for any recurrence of melanoma. A senior at Wichita’s Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, Isabel is an All-City First Team shortstop who is fielding four-year college scholarship offers.

To refer a pediatric patient to Dr. Whitfill, call Grene Vision Group at 316-684-5158.