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Seth Birky

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Seth Birky with his father, Josh Birky

Imagine running a 10K race—blindfolded. That’s what Josh and Julie Birky did recently in their hometown of Champaign, Ill., as a way to raise funds Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health—the place they credit with giving both Josh and their youngest son Seth the gift of vision. 

When Josh was 3 months old, Riley doctors performed surgery to correct bilateral congenital cataracts, a condition that clouds the eye lens. By the time he was nine, he had developed glaucoma, requiring additional surgeries performed by David Plager, M.D., Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of Riley’s section of pediatric ophthalmology. With the help of glasses and contact lenses, Josh can see well enough to accomplish almost anything he sets out to do. He completed an undergraduate and master’s degree, and has built a career as a grant writer. Driving is his only restriction. “Riley helped keep my childhood normal,” Josh said. 

Josh and Julie were relieved when their first son, Luther, was born with no vision issues. When Seth was born last January with the same condition as his father, the family knew Riley Hospital was the place they trusted for his care.

 Seth was 3-and-a-half weeks old when Dr. Plager removed his cataracts at Riley, the only hospital in Indiana where the surgery is performed on infants. “Seth will do better than his father visually because his cataracts were diagnosed and treated at an earlier age,” said Dr. Plager. Now 19 months old, Seth travels to Riley every three months for checkups. He is developing normal vision for his age. Often, Josh gets a checkup at the same time. 

The Birkys’ gratitude has driven them to give back to Riley in several ways. Their blindfolded race raised more than $3,000 for Riley Children’s Foundation. They have also enrolled Seth in clinical research studies at Riley in hope of helping the 1 in 3,000 babies born with this condition. Dr. Plager and his colleagues are involved with many promising studies dealing with cataracts and glaucoma in children, including one large multi-center national study ongoing since 1996 designed to establish the role of intraocular lens implants in babies as young as Seth was. “Josh went through this 30 years ago and Seth’s vision is so much better because of the research at Riley,” said Julie. “Now with Seth it just seems like an amazing gift to be part of what they can discover for someone else.”

Did you know? 

Anyone can host a personalized Riley fundraising event and/or create an online giving page. Visit RileyKids.org/ways-to-fundraise/events to learn more.

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