Denver nonprofit helping to revolutionize vision screening for newborns

DENVER (KDVR) — Anchor Center for Blind Children is leading the way in using a new screening technique to help detect a form of blindness years earlier than before. 

According to the Anchor Center, about half of the 200 children they help each year have visual impairment due to cortical visual impairment, or CVI. 

“It’s blindness or vision impairment because the brain isn’t working right,” pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Robert King said. 

CVI is found most often in children born prematurely. However, due to a lack of functional screening in infants, it can go undiagnosed for years. 

“That led us to start a study here in Denver at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children to assess premature infants,” King said. 

Anchor Center staff members received approval to screen infants in the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children neonatal intensive care unit using the NAVEG test. It is non-invasive and uses a series of objects like colorful balls, pictures of faces and an iPad with a program that scrolls black and white lines to determine if the young patient can detect different visual cues. 

“I have to tell you, when I first started I though it was going to be impossible. I thought, we’re not going to be able to do this,” King said. “We realized that little babies really have a lot of abilities that can be tested.”

The earlier the detection, the more progress

The test opens up the possibility for detection well before a child can communicate. 

“We haven’t been able to detect it early in a child’s life and now we can, and we are, and it’s exciting,” Callie Robinson said. 

Robinson is a teacher of students with visual impairment at Anchor Center. She calls the research and screening process for infants “groundbreaking”.

“The earlier in a child’s life that we start these interventions the more progress that we see,” she said. 

Intervention, education, therapy and rehabilitation can, in some cases, improve the vision of a child diagnosed with CVI. The later a child begins treatment, the less effective it can be. 

Anchor Center is hoping its research will lead to standardized testing of all newborns in NICU settings for CVI. 

“We’ve shared our knowledge with our colleagues around the country and we’re being asked to go and train other people including some hospitals,” Robinson said. 

Anchor Center is a nonprofit that relies on donations to fund its research and programming.

FOX31’s Ashley Michels and Daybreak’s Chris Parente are participating in their Dancing with the Anchors fundraiser happening April 23. All donations benefit Anchor Center for Blind Children. 

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