Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
January 8, 2024 ·  5 min read

Orbital Cellulitis: How a Cruise Left a 15-Year-Old Blind in One Eye

What was supposed to be a 10-day holiday cruise to New Zealand quickly backfired when an Australian teenager contracted a sudden sinus infection.

The Moment Riley Adams’ Life Changed

When 15-year-old Riley Adams from Brisbane, Australia went to sleep on a family cruise one night with a headache. But the next morning, he woke up knowing something had changed. Riley’s left eye was the size of a golf ball.

When Riley’s father Jason Adams saw his eye, “alarm bells started ringing.”[1] He immediately fetched went to find the cruise ship’s doctor who gave the antibiotic eye drops and later put him on an IV drip.

“I couldn’t really get the antibiotics in [Riley’s] eye because it was closed shut,” Jason said.[1] “After being seen by the on-ship doctors and still being out at sea for another 24 hours, panic did start to creep in.”

When the cruise ship finally docked in Dunedin, New Zealand, Riley’s parents rushed him to the hospital. Waiting anxiously, the doctors at Dunedin hospital ran a CT scan which revealed the 15-year-old had contracted a sinus infection that had spread to his eye and required immediate surgery.[2]

“Devastatingly, the outcome we all had to face was that Riley’s optical nerve has been damaged in the time the infection took hold, and now our beautiful, charismatic, outgoing 15-year-old son has lost his sight in his left eye.”[1]

Although doctors did what they could for Riley, the sinus infection caused irreparable damage.

“The length of time that the pressure was pushing on his optical nerve has cause permanent blindness,” said Riley’s father.[3]

“He was running around the ship, playing basketball, riding the wave pool on the boat, hanging with his mates, he even met a girl on the ship already… He was just being a teenage boy having a sensational time.”[1]

The infection was completely unexpected because Riley had not shown any symptoms whatsoever before getting the headache.

But, was Riley’s blindness caused by a simple sinus infection?

No, it was not so simple. Though he did contract sinusitis, Riley’s infection led to something called orbital cellulitis, which causes fat and muscles around the eye to grow inflamed. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, childhood orbital cellulitis “often starts out as a bacterial sinus infection from Haemophilus influenza.”[4]

8 Symptoms of Orbital Cellulitis

Although developing orbital cellulitis is a rare occurrence, some symptoms may include:[4]

  • Painful swelling of upper and lower eyelid (possibly the eyebrow and cheek)
  • Bulging eyes
  • Decreased vision
  • Pain when shifting the eye
  • Fever around 102°F (38.8°C) or higher
  • General ill feeling
  • Difficult eye movements, seeing double
  • Shiny, red or purple eyelid

The best thing you can do to avoid infections like this one is making sure your immune system stays strong. However, should you or someone you know contract orbital cellulitis, head to the hospital impossible. Because this sinusitis-linked infection can worsen rapidly, it’s not worth running the risk of damaging or even losing your sight.

Treatment of orbital cellulitis can include:[4]

  • A visit to the hospital
  • Antibiotics administered through a vein
  • Potential surgery to drain the abscess and relieve pressure around the eye
  • Doctor check-ups every few hours

An Update on Riley Adams’ Battle with Orbital Cellulitis

According to the Adams family’s Go Fund Me page, his parents Jason and Jodi shared that Riley was cleared to go back home.[5]

“As parents we are just so sad for our beautiful boy at 15 to have lost his sight in one of his eyes – this tragedy is devastating at any age, but at 15 it breaks our hearts. He now has to retrain his brain in his 2D perception as he has lost his ability to see in 3D. Depth perception and spatial awareness also has to be taught again on how to judge – his beloved Rugby League and all ball sports come into play as well.”

Thankful for all the love, support and donations, the Adams family believes “positivity is definitely the best medicine one can have.”

If you want to help support Riley’s recovery, you can visit his page here.

10 Tips for Staying Safe and Healthy on Your Next Trip

People always think nothing like this could happen to them, until it does. Keeping this list handy can make or break that much-needed getaway you’ve been dying to go on.[6,7]

  1. Stay hydrated
  2. Get enough sleep
  3. Eat healthy
  4. Kill germs (wash your hands and clothes at every opportunity)
  5. Study basic first aid
  6. Bring a compact first aid kid of your own
  7. Invest in travel insurance
  8. Before starting your adventure, see a doctor first (you may need certain shots or meds)
  9. Take your vitamins (they’re light and help keep your immune system strong)
  10. Make sure people back home know your itinerary and contact info

[1] Meij, S. (n.d.). Teen blind in one eye after infection on family cruise holiday. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[2] How a cruise to New Zealand left a Brisbane teen blind in one eye. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[3] Brooke Rolfe For Daily Mail Australia. (2018, January 19). Promising young rugby player, 15, left blind in one eye after contracting a freak sinus infection while on a cruise to New Zealand. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[4] Orbital cellulitis. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[5] Click here to support Riley Adams- Loss of sight in 1 eye organized by JasonandJodi Adams. (n.d.). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[6] 39 Essential Tips for Staying Healthy While Travelling – Hostelworld. (2017, June 22). Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

[7] Steen, J. (2017, April 27). How To Stay Healthy-Ish When You’re Travelling. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from

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