Sophomore Austin Barker Has Been In and Out of the Hospital His Whole Childhood

Don’t take it for granted


Credit to Francisco Jimenez

Looking at the camera, sophomore Austin Barker shows his blind eye. Barker was diagnosed with cancer in his left eye, and that lead him to be blind in his left eye. Barker luckily lived, and the only thing his left eye does is turn different colors in different lightings.

At the age of 10 and a half months, in April of 2004, Austin Barker was sitting in his highchair when his father, Bryan Barker, thought that Austin might have an amblyopia, commonly referred to as a “lazy eye”. His mother, Samantha Barker, called his childhood pediatrician directly after to set up an appointment and immediately saw the pediatrician soon after. Little did the Barker family know, this appointment would affect Austin for the rest of his life.

“It was just an average day for us,” Samantha said. “He was just sitting in his highchair when my husband noticed his eye and I called right away.”

The pediatrician noticed his lazy eye and was concerned it was something more than just that. She then referred Austin to a retina specialist in St. Louis. The specialist referred Austin to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The Barkers packed their bags at once, leaving the hospital and were on their way to Memphis soon afterwards. Once they arrived, Austin began tests right away starting with MRI’s and a liver functioning test. St. Jude’s diagnosed young Austin with a very rare cancer known as Retinoblastoma (RB). RB is a form of eye cancer which starts in the retina and mainly affects children between newborn and five years.

“You just don’t expect something like this to ever happen to your children,” Samantha said. “Especially not your first. It’s all a very scary situation that no one prepares for and it really brought a lot of emotions out.”

Austin began treatments for his eye on his seventh day at St. Jude’s and continued until March 2005. After six rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor in Austin’s eye that caused the cancer stopped growing, but it wasn’t dead yet. He went through two types of treatments throughout his time fighting his cancer, chemotherapy and radiation. These treatments occurred once a week at the beginning, but as he grew older they went from going to once a month to once every two months, gradually continuing on but decreasing the amount of hospital visits. After a year of treatments, the cancer in his eye was finally killed. Austin’s parents were very relieved that St. Jude’s was successful in keeping his real eye because at the time, St. Jude’s was trying a new procedure to save the eye, whereas other hospitals removed the eye.

“My parents were very worried because they didn’t know what would happen,” Austin said. “If I would’ve waited any longer, I wouldn’t have my real eyeball, I’d have a glass one.”

Despite fighting the cancer, Austin has been left completely blind in his left eye and will never have vision in his eye again. The only problem Austin says he has trouble with is his depth perception. However, nothing has stopped Austin from continuing life as any other kid. Austin enjoys hunting and racecars, and he hopes to become a mechanic once he becomes older. According to Austin, being blind in his eye has had no effect on the activities that he enjoys doing.

“I have no vision in that eye now,” Austin said. “I never will be able to again and I don’t remember what it’s like with the two eyes because I was so young. It’s always been my life with one eye.”