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2.03.2006

Freak Child Feels No Pain, Rubbs Off Own Eyes

Steve and Trish Gingras first noticed something was wrong when Gabby was 4 months old. She was biting her fingers until they bled. By the time she was 2, her teeth had to be removed so she wouldn't hurt herself. Now, she must eat very small bites of soft food -- and like everything else she does, she eats with gusto.

But biting her fingers wasn't the only danger.

When she was a toddler, Gabby scratched her cornea and was given eye gel, the standard prescription. Because her doctors and parents were unaccustomed to treating a child who doesn't feel pain, no one anticipated what would happen next.

"The thick gel had a reflux reaction to rub your eye," Steve said. "When you don't feel pain, you don't know how hard you're rubbing, and pretty soon she had damaged both eyes."

The Gingrases tried something else -- safety goggles. But the damage was done. One eye was so infected it had to be removed; otherwise her other eye might've become infected too. Gabby got a prosthetic eye, and the sight in her remaining eye is dim.

In school, Gabby is always being followed by an education assistant, to clear her path, to give her eyedrops, to make sure she's not seriously injured. She works with a closed-circuit TV monitor that helps magnify images in the classroom, and also helps with reading. Although Gabby is learning to manage, and getting a lot of help, she still could hurt herself. She can't see well, and doesn't have pain to tell her when she's in trouble.

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