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'Little pirate': Baby's eye patch inspires superhero wear

July 31, 2013 at 8:07 AM ET

Scott
Courtesy Jessica Butler
Scott Butler, who is now 15 months old, was born with a congenital cataract. He wears a patch on his healthy eye so that he doesn’t favor it and learns to use his other eye.

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them even have to go to the eye doctor.

When a mom in Eugene, Ore., got tired of stares and comments about her infant’s eye patch and glasses, she set out to make him feel special about his unique baby accessories.

Jessica Butler, 25, now designs T-shirts for Scott and other kids like him, with capes and logos that say, “My glasses give me super powers.”

It’s been a long journey for the family and the 15-month-old kid they call their “little pirate.”

A pediatrician noticed a problem with Scott’s left eye on the day he was born, so the family went to a pediatric ophthalmologist that same week. The diagnosis: the baby had a congenital cataract, leaving him completely blind in that eye.

“I was completely stunned. It was a huge shock, it was really scary,” Butler told TODAY Moms. “I had no idea that anything like that even existed.”

Scott
Courtesy Jessica Butler
Scott had to have cataract surgery when he was just a month old.

It's estimated congenital cataracts occur in about 3 of 10,000 live births. At 4 weeks old, Scott had cataract surgery, something most people associate with retirees, not babies.

The procedure usually involves removing the cloudy lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial one.

But since Scott is so young, doctors can’t put the artificial lens in until his eye is developed, so he has to wear a contact lens that his parents replace every two weeks or so.

Scott also has to wear an eye patch for six hours a day to make sure his vision develops correctly. The patch goes over his healthy eye so that he doesn’t favor it and learns to use both eyes equally. Butler started out applying skin-colored patches to Scott’s face, but found they attracted lots of unwelcome attention.

“If you go out to the grocery store, or something, kids would start saying, ‘Mom, what’s wrong with that kid’s eye? The kid has no eye,’” she said.

So Butler now uses brightly-colored eye patches available online, which kids think are “cool and not weird.” Scott hated patching at first – ripping off the patches so the family had to go through several of them a day -- but has gotten used to it, Butler said.

Scott
Courtesy Jessica Butler
Scott wears one of his mom's designs, a T-shirt with a cape and the slogan, "My patch gives me super powers."

That’s still not the end of his vision routine, though, because he also wears glasses, which provide more protection for his eye and stop him from rubbing it and popping out the expensive contact lens. He also has to go to the eye doctor every two months.

Scott now sees almost equally well with both eyes, but is at a high risk for developing glaucoma, his mom said.

Faced with questions from strangers about Scott’s patches and glasses, Butler, a freelance graphic designer, started Eye Power Kids Wear this spring, a collection of T-shirts to make Scott and other kids like him feel special.

“You always get the whispers and people always give you looks,” she said, adding that she prefers people start a conversation.

Butler chronicles her adventures with Scott on her blog and finds a lot of comfort in the Little Four Eyes online community for parents of children who wear glasses, contacts and patches.

She also plans to take part in the Great Glasses Play Day, an event celebrating kids like Scott that will take place in 16 cities around the country this weekend.

She hopes her T-shirts make a difference.

“A lot of parents feel alone – they don’t know other kids patch… and there’s actually quite a few out there,” Butler said. “I want kids to be proud to wear their eye patches and make it more fun.”

Does your child have to wear any medical devices that get unwelcome attention? Let us know on the TODAY Moms Facebook page.

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