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Future looks bright for Folsom area cancer-stricken infant

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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ORANGEVALE, CA - After celebrating her first birthday, Leah Rivera, has become an inspiration to her family and her community. Kelly Rivera, 23, and her husband Anthony, 25, of Orangevale, are both full-time students and employees at the Folsom WalMart where they met and fell in love. After finding out they were expecting their first child, Leah, they never imagined the journey they were about to encounter. “Leah was born July 23, 2011, in good health. We first noticed her big, beautiful, bright blue eyes,” Anthony said. “She was perfect.” At about 8-months-old, she went in for a regular check-up and was found to be in good health. However, weeks later, Leah’s life was about to drastically change. “We first noticed her right eye was turning from the blue color to a black shade,” Anthony said. “After a month, her entire retina turned black.” Kelly and Anthony took Leah into the doctor, and learned that Leah had developed Retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor growing on the retina of her right eye. “The doctors told us that there are less than 200 cases a year of this type of cancer in the country and four kids in a million are diagnosed in a year,” Kelly said. Acting quickly, doctors removed Leah’s entire right eye on June 14 when she was 11 months old. “The tumor had completely destroyed her whole eye, so it had to be removed,” Anthony said. “Now we need to wait and see if it has also affected her left eye. But, there is a good probability that it will not spread to her left eye because her right was removed soon enough.” Now, Leah needs to have regular MRIs every two months to check on her left eye, with her first Magnetic Resonance Imaging test (MRI) in September. Every MRI co-pay payment for the family is $400. She is also being fitted for her glass eye. “Everything is so non-definitive for us,” Anthony said. “We are always on edge looking at her left eye to watch for color change.” Kelly said it is difficult to spot Retinoblastoma in babies because they are always looking around. So many times the discoloration is spotted in photos. “I am so hard on myself that I did not catch it sooner,” Anthony said. “It is so rare that everyone, including our primary physicians, overlooked it at first. The tumor wasn’t even a consideration at first.” While Leah was always a “docile and happy” baby, her parents said after her surgery, she has become even more cheerful. “She is definitely back to her normal, happy self,” Anthony said. “There was so much pressure in her right eye from the tumor that during the last couple weeks before the surgery, she was in a lot of pain. But, within days after the tumor was removed, she was smiling and laughing again.” Today, after Leah’s first birthday, her parents said she is developing right on track. “She is beginning to talk and walk by taking five or more consecutive steps,” Anthony said. “With one eye, she’s doing great.” He said there are a few handicaps she may face when growing up with one eye, like an off-scale depth perception, but otherwise she will not be affected by the eye removal. “The doctors told us to train her to be left-handed to help with her balance,” he said. “She will also wear glasses to help protect her glass eye.” To help the young family with their daughter’s high medical bills and yearly insurance deductible of $5,000, many of their WalMart co-workers, friends and church community, have come together to help offset the costs. “The Folsom WalMart team has been very supportive to us personally with love and prayers,” Anthony said. “We have also gotten a lot of support from the Folsom and Orangevale communities. The Spiritual Life Center in Sacramento has also provided us with a lot of support. We are so grateful and thankful to everyone.” To donate money directly to the family, there is an account open in Leah’s name at Folsom Lake Bank, 905 Sutter St., in Folsom.