An Illinois mother couldn’t shake the feeling something wasn’t right. Following her intuition, she took a photo of her young son. While looking it over, she saw something odd and made a gut-churning discovery.
Julie Fitzgerald is like any other good mother, always looking out for her children and noticing when something isn’t right. Her son Avery was an ordinary 2-year-old boy — one who would jump on the couch with his older brother when his mom looked away, according to Fox News. But, Julie couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong after spotting something different with Avery.
The Rockford, Illinois mother followed her instinct and snapped a photo of her little boy to help her investigate her suspicions, NBC Chicago reported, but this was one time she wanted to be wrong. “I took a picture, and I did not want to take the picture because I had this dreaded feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I took the picture and boom,” Julie recalled. Describing the terrifying moment her worst fears were confirmed, she added, “His whole pupil was just white and that’s when I knew.”
A couple of months prior, Julie noticed something different about her son’s eye, according to KTLA. When the light would shine in Avery’s left eye, Julie thought she saw an unusual twinkle in the back of it. There was definitely something in the boy’s eye, but Julie couldn’t figure out what that something was. All she knew was that she needed answers.
Julie’s curiosity led her to the Internet, where she searched for similar scenarios. Her efforts turned up a story about a woman who had seen a white eye in a photo of a relative rather than the typical red-eye. It turned out the family member had cancer. Concerned, Julie told the story to her husband Patrick.
Although Patrick initially responded by saying it was probably nothing, that all changed with one picture. After snapping the photo of Avery with her cellphone and making the troubling discovery, Julie took their son to the doctor. There, Avery’s parents received the devastating news they didn’t want to hear.
“He took one look and said there are multiple, multiple tumors,” Julie recalled. Avery had retinoblastoma. Although rare, with only 250 to 350 children diagnosed in the United States per year, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), retinoblastoma is the most common form of cancer affecting the eye in children. It usually develops before the age of 5 but is typically diagnosed before the age of 3. It develops in the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color.
Making matters worse, there were tumors in 75 percent of Avery’s left eye, and it would have to be removed. But, there was some good news. Julie’s hunch likely saved Avery’s life. The tumors had only begun growing six weeks prior to the doctor’s appointment. Had the family delayed, doctors said Avery’s cancer could have spread to his brain and blood, making his prognosis so much worse. Avery might have lost his eye, but at least he was still alive.
What’s more, doctors revealed that Avery had likely been blind in his left eye for most of his life, so losing it wouldn’t affect him all that much, especially after he got fitted with a prosthetic. Doctors planned to run tests to see if Avery carries a genetic marker that could indicate he’s at risk for developing other cancers in the future, but he appeared to be cancer free after having his eye removed.
After the harrowing ordeal, Patrick said he has some advice for other families who might find themselves in similar situations. “Listen to your wife, that would be the first thing,” he said since he initially ignored Julie’s intuition and thought it was nothing. “Trust your gut,” Patrick added. “Trust a momma’s gut … and don’t wait. Don’t wait to see if it improves.”
Thankfully, that’s exactly what Julie did. She trusted her mother’s intuition, which should never be underestimated. Now, her son’s story is not only encouraging other parents to do the same, but it’s also educating people on something they should look out for. Who knows, Julie might be saving more lives than she ever imagined as people take a closer look at their beloved family snapshots.