Patient Care

Flaum Eye Institute Surgeon Saves 5-year-old German Boy’s Vision

May. 7, 2012
URMC one of 4 centers in U.S. to offer artificial cornea transplants for infants and children
Five-year-old Marco Contaldo travels from Germany for specialized ophthalmology care by cornea specialist James V. Aquavella, M.D., at the Flaum Eye Institute. Marco was born nearly blind and his parents, Irene, left, and Gugliano Contaldo sought Aquavella's expertise to restore their son's vision.

A German boy who was considered blind and untreatable when he was born is today enrolled in kindergarten and enjoys playing video games, thanks to sight-saving surgery by a University of Rochester Medical Center cornea surgeon.

Marco Contaldo, 5, was born with Peter’s Anomaly, a rare congenital disease that causes glaucoma and opaque, or cloudy, corneas. German doctors said he had less than 2 percent of his vision. Giugliano and Irene Contaldo were devastated by the lack of treatment options for him in Germany.

“If we did nothing, Marco would be blind for life. We wanted more for him,” said Contaldo.

Extensive internet research led them to James V. Aquavella, M.D., at URMC’s Flaum Eye Institute. At the time, Aquavella was the only ophthalmic surgeon to perform infant artificial corneal transplants, also known as keratoprosthesis, or K-pro. Today, there are only three other centers in the United States offering the artificial corneal transplants for infants and children.

“We are really pleased with how well Marco has done since his initial diagnosis. We expect he will retain his vision and our whole team is pleased to see the successes he is having every day,” Aquavella said.

Supported by donations from relatives, friends and generous residents of Schramberg, Germany, the Contaldos traveled to Rochester for Aquavella and his team of experts to perform the delicate procedure on Marco, who was just 6 months old. Marco’s doctors were skeptical about the treatment and the family’s insurance company wouldn’t cover the expense.

Aquavella used an artificial corneal implant, a small plastic disk that holds a donor cornea that is attached to the eye. Marco needed the implants in both eyes and then URMC retinal specialist Mina Chung, M.D., repaired a detached retina in his left eye. 

“A short time later, we knew Marco could see because he would reach for things and point,” said his mother, Irene Contaldo. The couple also has two daughters, Mercedes, 12 and Angelina, 4.

Since that first corneal implant, Marco has had three additional procedures due to complications in his left eye.

Marco attends “regular kindergarten and he’s a regular kid,” his father said. “We are so happy that he can see and play and have a regular life.”

“There are no words to express our gratitude not only to the URMC staff for their invaluable capabilities, but also to the many people we’ve come in contact with who have provided wonderful hospitality and support,” said Contaldo, who stayed at Ronald McDonald House, on Westmoreland Drive, during the visits.