Friday, September 5, 2008

Positive uses of Internet

Woman saves baby’s life — by e-mail

U.K. mom saw tumor that doctors missed: ‘Anybody would have done it’

It wasn’t easy for Madeleine Robb to send an e-mail to another mom warning that her baby might have a deadly form of eye cancer. But she’s glad she did it — and so is the mother of 1-year-old Rowan Santos.

“I didn’t want to scare her,” Robb told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira from London on Thursday. “But then I weighed out the options. If something wasn’t wrong, then no real harm was done. If something was wrong, I really had no option, so obviously I had to tell her.”

Just hours after reading the e-mail, Megan Santos of Riverview, Fla., learned from a doctor that Rowan has a potentially deadly form of childhood cancer called retinoblastoma.

Although Rowan will, unfortunately, lose her left eye, Megan Santos has called Robb, who hails from England, a “hero,” because the online diagnosis may have saved her baby’s life.

The two moms, who each gave birth to a daughter on the same day, spoke for the first time on the phone on Wednesday. But it was a newer form of communication, the Internet, that provided the vital information and the lifesaving link.

Crucial correspondence
Santos and Robb first met online through chat on a pregnancy Web site,, when they were both expecting. Their respective daughters, Rowan Santos and Lileth Robb, were born on the same day last August, spurring a continuing friendship through regular e-mails and photo-sharing.

When Santos posted a photo of 1-year-old Rowan on the Web site, her friend across the Atlantic noticed a white shadow in the baby’s left eye.

Robb, a 32-year-old business analyst with no medical training, found the image curious, so she did some research on the Web. She learned that the white area could be a symptom of an eye cancer called retinoblastoma.

Though it was the first time she’d ever seen the symptom, Robb explained, “I’d seen a news article here in the U.K a few years ago, something similar, and it just sparked a memory of that. Also, the word ‘cancer’ sprang to mind with the same memory. So obviously I was quite concerned and just decided to do more research.”

From her home in Stretford, England, Robb sent a concerned e-mail to Santos. Immediately, Santos made an appointment with Rowan's doctor. The next day, Aug. 8, she was referred to an ophthalmologist. A series of tests revealed Rowan did have a cancerous tumor growing on her retina.

Rowan will lose the eye sometime this winter, and there are rounds of chemotherapy ahead. But Santos has nothing but gratitude for the e-mail warning she believes saved her daughter’s life.

“Grateful cannot even begin to describe how we feel toward Maddie,” Santos told the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “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.”

But Robb was self-effacing about the “hero” moniker. “I suppose if that’s how they feel, then that’s what I am to them,” she told Vieira. “I think anybody in my situation would have done the same thing, if they had known what I knew and had the opportunity to say it.

“I suppose I’m a hero in a certain sense, but in another sense, I think I’m rather normal and I care about people.” [...]

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