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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Morning Brain Spillage: Albinism

When Makayla was three months old, and her pediatrician diagnosed her with nystagmus, one of the first things they asked me was if it was possible that she was albino.  I laughed and just said that she took after me, thinking to myself, "can they not see how light I am?" 

My own dad (who is very dark in his skin, hair, and eyes) and I joked when I was a kid, that my mom's family was albino and that's why they, and I, were so, so, so pale (I actually REALLY hate the term pale, I prefer fair.  Pale sounds sickly, fair is just really light.).  But it was a joke!  I already knew that nystagmus was common in people with albinism, but obviously the doctors were just jumping to conclusions, because my daughter has all the same coloring as me (my eyes are green now, but were blue through elementary school and started changing in 7th grade), and I could not possibly be albino, since my eyes are green, and I have freckles, and although none of my friends would call it a tan, my skin tone does change some, when I get sun.  Although, my hair was white as a baby, whiter than Makayla's, it's now a very dark blonde, maybe even a light brown.  Obviously, I can't be albino.

But with more and more doctors asking about Makayla being albino, and now with her ocular albinism diagnosis, I'm learning so much more about albinism.  You might think of Powder or Whitey from Me, My Self & Irene when you think of someone with albinism, with the red or blue eyes, and the white hair and the translucent skin.  In fact, there are many different types of albinism and some include having some levels of pigment.  Now knowing this, I've asked doctors, if Makayla is albino, is it possible I am too?  But I'm always shut down, told that since my eyes are fine, I can't be albino, and that if I were the one with albinism that it would have been passed down to Austin, not Makayla (There is a dominant gene carried by mothers and passed down to sons, without the father having to carry a recessive gene, because Makayla is effected, and not Austin, we know this is not the case for us).

The more I read, I'm realizing that just may not be true. It really is frustrating how much information doctors just blurt out without really knowing for sure. 

I was catching up on my friend Amy's blog, Through the Eyes of Liam, and was reading a post she has on Oculocutaneous Albinism.  In the post, she lists characteristics of the most common types of albinism, and I couldn't help but notice that this part, aside from the vision problems, describes me to a T:

OCA1b- A quick rundown:

White or light yellow hair at birth but darkens with age, can change to a golden or light brown
Skin remains white but often has some generalized pigmentation
Tans with sun exposure
Iris color remains blue or change to a hazel/green or brown/tan
Transillumination shows in streaks or clumps of pigment in the iris
Fine granular pigment may develop over time in the retina
Visual acuity is usually between 20/100 and 20/200 but can be as good as 20/60
Nystagmus and Strabismus is possible.
Involves tyrosinase enzyme--which converts tyrosine (an amino acid) into melanin

There are many other types of albinism, so I have to wonder if there is one that would include the first half of this description, but leaves out the part about transillumination, or maybe the transillumination improves with age, because I remember being a lot more sensitive to light as a child than I am now. I remember my eyes aching when I stepped outside some mornings.  I am just so curious...  In a lot of ways it would make so much sense, like how my dad ca be so dark, but I'm so fair, and how I don't exactly tan in the sun, I turn a sort of pink color.  It's not the same as a burn, but it's definitely not a a brown tan color.

I'm not sure what any of this actually means.  It doesn't change my life in anyway, and it doesn't change the way we go about treating Makayla, but it sure is facinating to think that you can go 30 years and not know something to significant about your self.  Regardless if I am albino or not, I probably at least carry the recessive gene, and my husband must also, in order for us to have passed it on to Makayla.

We are still waiting for the referral for genetic testing to come through.  Our pediatrician has sent a request to Stanford, but they are so backed up with referrals we don't expect to hear from them until November and then probably wont have an appointment until early next year.  That is just to see a geneticist and find out if our insurance will cover testing, which we don't think it does.  Besides wanting to know to quiet my own curiosity, finding out will help us to learn how likely we would be to have more children with albinism, and how likely Makayla and Austin are to have children with albinism.

1 comment:

  1. That was a SUPER interesting read! Never knew so much about albinoism before!