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This Little Girl's Big, Beautiful Eyes Are Due To A Rare Genetic Syndrome

Mehlani has a rare genetic condition called Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome, and strangers are always commenting on her big eyes.

Posted on September 17, 2018, at 3:45 p.m. ET

This is Mehlani. She's almost 2 and lives with her mom, Karina Martinez, in Minnesota.

Karina Martinez

When talking with her mom, strangers often compliment Mehlani's big, beautiful eyes. What those people don't know, however, is that Mehlani has Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome — a rare condition that affects the development of the eyes.

Martinez told BuzzFeed News that Mehlani was diagnosed when she was just a week old.

"I had never heard of it until it happened to us," said Martinez.

Karina Martinez

Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome affects the cornea and iris, so the eyes have a different appearance than most other people's. The iris, which is the colored part of the eye, can appear small or misshapen. Extra holes in the iris can occur that make it look like there's more than one pupil, or the pupil may be off-center.

About half of those with the syndrome also have glaucoma, which is internal pressure inside the eye that can damage the optic nerve if it's not treated. It can make a child's eyes appear larger than other children's, and over time, it can eventually lead to impaired vision and blindness (although surgery can help prevent this).

Mehlani has glaucoma, although so far her vision is fine. Martinez said they don't yet know what's in her future, but she has to wear sunglasses outside because glaucoma can also make your eyes sensitive to light.

Karina Martinez

But the situation isn't just medical. Martinez has also had to navigate the comments she gets from total strangers. She recently shared those in a series of tweets that have since gone viral.

Everytime were out & a stranger compliments on how big & beautiful her eyes are, I have a mental debate on whether or not I should mention her defect. I decide no, smile & say thank you. I’m always left with a weird feeling. I just pray she’ll always know how beautiful she is. https://t.co/JUJyGkLbDe

"I’m always left with a weird feeling. I just pray she’ll always know how beautiful she is," she wrote.

She also worries about how other kids will treat Mehlani once she's old enough to start school.

"Maybe kids will call her mean names," said Martinez. "There are kids that she’s played with who’ve mentioned, 'Oh my gosh, mom, her eyes are so big.'"

I get so nervous thinking about her starting school. What if other kids are mean about her eyes & she gets made fun of? What if she starts to hate her unique gorgeous eyes? It makes me want to cry thinking about it because she’s so strong & sweet & been through so much already 😔

"At this point I think she’s just too young to understand, so she doesn’t know any different. She doesn’t know anything is really wrong with her eyes," said Martinez.

But for now, Martinez feels less alone. Since her tweets went viral, she's been contacted by numerous parents who also have children with the same syndrome.

"People are super nice and just letting me know if I had any questions I could ask them," she said.

Im seriously overwhelmed with all of the love my princess is getting ♥️ you guys are literally making me tear up! Since everyone’s being so sweet I thought I’d share some of my favorite pics of my beautiful! https://t.co/gu4hqQFYBw

Mehlani appreciates it, too.

Mehlani wants to say thank you to everyone for their kind sweet words! She has no idea what Twitter is but I told her everyone loves her & thinks she’s beautiful 💖 https://t.co/ZEzbo1ZJBn

Martinez wants Mehlani to know she'll always be loved, even if strangers aren't kind.

"I’ll just remind her — I already do — how beautiful she is," said Martinez.

"I’ll just tell her God made her that way for a reason. Everybody has something that makes them different."

Karina Martinez


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