East Kilbride schoolboy, Luke Brand (8), was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain stem tumour following a routine eye examination at Specsavers in East Kilbride.
By chance, the youngster’s three-year-old sister, Holly, snapped his specs which prompted his mum, Fiona (43), to visit the opticians in June last year.
Fiona Brand, said: ‘Luke has worn glasses since he was five and his younger sister breaks them constantly - on this occasion Holly snapped them in half. I used to take Luke to an independent opticians but I wanted to find someone that could see us quite urgently as he suffered from sore heads if he didn’t have his glasses on.
‘Specsavers in East Kilbride Shopping Centre was the only opticians that gave Luke an appointment that very day. I was very grateful that they squeezed us in.’
During Luke’s routine eye test, experienced optometrist Natalie McMillan felt that something was amiss and this was confirmed by the photograph she took of the back of his eye.
Natalie said: ‘Luke didn’t have any symptoms of a brain stem tumour at the time of his eye check but I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. When I took a look at the image of the back of his eye, there was a suspicious dark shadow.
‘I was hopeful there was an innocent explanation but decided to refer Luke to Hairmyers Hospital.’
Specialists at first suspected the cause of the dark shadow was grit either in or on the optical nerve. However, as Luke was waiting for a further appointment to undergo another examination, his health took a turn for the worse.
Brain stem tumour diagnosis
Fiona continued: ‘On 16 November, Luke became really unwell – his vision was very blurry and he was vomiting. I insisted that Luke was seen immediately and it was at this point that he was diagnosed with a brain stem tumour.
‘After that everything became a bit of a blur. Luke was admitted to the ophthalmology department at Wishaw General Hospital on 18 November before being transferred to Yorkhill Children’s Hospital. There he underwent emergency ETV surgery to release the fluid that had built up at the base of his brain.
‘Luke’s brain stem tumour prevented cerebral fluid from circulating as it should. His doctor told us that it’s possible he’s had the tumour since birth. It’s likely the tumour was undetectable until his skull developed fully and fused together, preventing the fluid from escaping through his skull.
‘The doctors told us that at the time of Luke’s operation, if the tumour had been left untreated for just another 48 hours, it could have been fatal.’
Luke underwent a second operation to fit a VP shunt which runs from his head to his stomach to ensure the cerebral fluid can escape. Due to the location of the tumour, it isn’t possible to remove it but doctors are keeping a close eye on it with regular scans.
Fiona added: ‘The operations have made a massive difference to Luke’s wellbeing. The first thing he mentioned after he woke up from the first operation was that his head was no longer sore.
‘I had assumed that Luke’s headaches were linked to his eyesight and he didn’t complain about them that often. It appears that Luke has probably suffered from a dull headache for most of his life and he had actually thought that it was normal which is why he didn’t complain!
‘Our whole family are extremely grateful to Natalie at Specsavers for referring Luke. Her hunch saved his life. If the tumour wasn’t detected, at best Luke would probably have lost his sight and at worst, we would have lost Luke.
‘I was watching Good Morning Britain recently and they interviewed a family that had been through a similar ordeal to us. This prompted me to share our story as hopefully it will encourage everyone to have regular eye tests. I hadn’t realised until Luke’s diagnosis just how important they are! All our family now go for regular checks at Specsavers in East Kilbride.’
Importance of regular eye checks
Shirley-Ann Kennedy, store director and optometrist at Specsavers in East Kilbride, says: ‘The chances of finding evidence of a suspected brain tumour during an eye test are rare. Despite this, Luke’s diagnosis highlights just how important regular eye examinations can be – we typically recommend getting your eyes checked every two years.
‘Eye exams should be an important part of everyone’s overall health routine, no matter their age. Some people wait until they experience symptoms to see an optometrist but shouldn't because many eye problems and other underlying health conditions can be silent - meaning they have no symptoms.
‘The technology we have allows us to take a detailed picture of the back of the eye which means we can closely monitor our customers’ eye health as well as being a great indicator of other possible conditions.
‘We’re very thankful that our routine eye test helped to identify the tumour and encouraged Luke to seek treatment.’