Real life hero

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Features Editor

Cameras never lie.

But, sometimes we are oblivious to the truth they put before us.

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For Jim and Allyson Outlaw, the horrible truth was staring them right in the face, but they didn’t see it because they were not aware of the story the photographs could tell.

Today, they have a story to share and they do so with the hope that their story could make a difference in the lives of other children – and, perhaps, the difference between life and death.

When little Holman was born April 30, 1998, Jim and Allyson were the happiest couple in the world. They had a blue-eyed, bright-eye bundle of joy who was perfectly wrapped in crimson and white.

The little tyke had flash bulbs popping around him all the time as his parents wanted to record of his every move.

When he was about three months old, Jim and Allyson noticed a white spot in Holman’s right eye in one of his photographs.

"We thought there was something wrong with the camera," Allyson said. "We had no idea that the white spot in his eye was a sign that something was terribly wrong. We had never heard of retinoplastoma. We just thought something was wrong with the camera."

When Holman went for his four-month checkup, his mother got a little nervous watching the pediatrician "keep shining a light in his right eye."

"Usually, the doctor would shine the light in the eye and that would be it," Allyson said. "But, this time he kept coming back. Finally, he said that something didn’t look quite right and he recommended we take Holman to a specialist in Montgomery."

Jim and Allyson were concerned but not overly so. They had no idea that the news they would receive would be so devastating.

"Holman was diagnosed with retinoplastoma, a highly malignant tumor on the retina," Allyson said. "This is a rare form of cancer. It occurs in one in 25,000, but the tumor grows very rapidly and we had to do something immediately or Holman would lose his eye or maybe


"The specialist recommended a hospital in Philadelphia where they were doing the latest research," Allyson said. "That was Holman’s best chance and we wanted to take it."

The young couple went home afraid and brokenhearted, but with the faith that there was hope for Holman.

"Looking back on it, I don’t see how we did it," Allyson said. "Jim kept asking why it couldn’t be him instead of our little baby. I guess, at times like that you go on faith and the belief that everything is going to be alright. You feel

like you’re in a cloud and you just do what you have to do."

The Outlaws had a long, journey into the unknown ahead of them, but, even from the beginning, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

They arrived in Philadelphia with butterflies in their stomachs and lumps in their throats.

"We went to Philadelphia so down, but when the doctor examined Holman she said we were very fortunate that our pediatrician had caught the tumor in its early stage," Allyson said. "She said, ‘We can beat this thing. We are going to beat this thing!’ And, we believed her."

The next six months weren’t easy for little Holman or his parents.

Every 28 days, they were back in Philadelphia for treatments. Holman was put to sleep and received cryotherapy where the doctors froze the tumor. Then he was given thermotherapy where the tumor was burned. That was in addition to six rounds of chemotherapy.

"Going into the treatments, it was hard on Holman because he couldn’t have anything to eat or drink the night before," Allyson said. "The treatments started at 6 in the morning and there we were with a starving baby. It was hard."

Holman came out of the treatments looking like he has been punched in both eyes.

"He was in a lot of pain from that," his mother said. "Because of the chemotherapy, he lost his appetite and, if it had not been for his bottle, he would have starved to death."

The physicians in Philadelphia kept close watch on little Holman, as long as the seeds of the tumor reoccurred, he had to be checked every two months. As the seeds got fewer and fewer, the trips to Philadelphia were lengthened to four months.

February two years ago, tests revealed that there were no seeds present. Now, the family makes the trip to the City of Brotherly Love only twice a year.

"The doctors have told us there is a 98 percent chance that the seeds won’t grow back, but his eye will continue to grow until he is five," Allyson said. "We hope when he turns five April 30 of next year that he will get the all-clear sign."

Today, Holman has a blind spot in the center of his right eye, but his peripheral vision has not been affected.

"We know how blessed we are," his mother said. "They said retinoplastoma is a rare form of cancer, but seeing all of the children in Philadelphia with the disease, it didn’t seem rare at all. If it’s not caught early, the chances are that a child will lose their eye. Of even greater concern is the fact that the tumor is so close to the optic nerve which goes to the brain and that can cause death."

Allyson said she has been contacted by parents whose children have been diagnosed with retinoplastoma and she has been able to give them encouragement based on their experiences. However, there are instances where the tumors are not caught in time and the children lose an eye.

"Last year, a lady from Montgomery called us, wanting to talk with someone who had been through the experience," Allyson said. "Her child was 10 months old when she was diagnosed. The tumor was too large and she lost her eye."

Allyson also mentioned a child in Geneva who was recently diagnosed with retinoplastoma and lost an eye.

"The earlier the detection the better the chance of a good outcome," she said. "That’s why Jim and I want parents of infants to be aware that the eye of a camera can save a child’s eye. When looking at photographs, look closely at the eyes. If there is a white spot in the eye, I would recommended seeing a doctor as soon as possible. Hopefully, there will be something wrong with the camera, but if there’s not, there is hope for a good outcome if the spot is retinoplastoma."