Human Interest


E-mail Credited With Early Diagnosis of Baby's Cancer

August 29, 2008 10:50 AM
by Emily Coakley
One parent’s concern—from thousands of miles away—helped a Florida couple catch a potentially life-threatening disease in time.

The Internet’s Silver Lining

A transcontinental friendship, formed online, became a lifesaver for one small child, MSNBC reports. Madeleine Robb and Megan Santos became friends through the message boards on and delivered daughters on the same day. Recently, Robb noticed an odd white shadow in a picture of Santos’s daughter Rowan, posted on the site.

Robb did some research online and discovered a white shadow in a child’s eye could be a symptom of a rare cancer called retinoblastoma. She emailed Santos, who immediately called the doctor. By the next day, doctors had diagnosed Rowan with the disease.

“Do I consider Madeleine our hero? Most certainly. If she hadn’t sent that e-mail, Rowan’s prognosis wouldn’t be as good as it is,” Megan Santos told British newspaper Daily Mail, according to MSNBC.

The disease, which is potentially fatal, has cost Rowan her eye, but she’s in treatment.

Rowan’s father, Marc Santos, says on his blog Insignificant Wranglings that the media coverage from their story has already led to another retinoblastoma diagnosis over in England.

“When this is all over I’d like to write an article stressing how the internet isn’t just porn, piracy, and pedophilia. It’s also the power of (life saving) networks; the collaborative contact with others, which opens the possibility of response, compassion, and love,” Santos wrote.

Opinion & Analysis: In defense of the Net

Jenny Edbauer Rice, on her blog, Working Blue, said Rowan’s story is powerful evidence of the Internet’s usefulness.

“I’d like to send this story to every one of those people who tell us that the net is ruining community, making our lives so much worse, blah blah blah,” she wrote. “These online spaces create different kinds of communities, and different forms of life-together. In Rowan’s case, it saved her life. I cannot get over that. It saved her life. A silly, fun, time-wasting space like an online mom’s message board saved Rowan’s life.”

Related Topic: Another high-profile case of retinoblastoma

During the 2007 NBA championships, Utah Jazz player Derek Fisher traveled between Utah and New York to see specialists for his daughter Tatum, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when she was about nine months old.

Reference: Retinoblastoma diagnosis, treatment information

The American Cancer Society has a detailed description of retinoblastoma’s signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Doctors use ultrasound, not a biopsy, to confirm a retinoblastoma diagnosis because of where the tumor is located.

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