A nine-year-old Edinburgh girl has received life-saving treatment after a quick-thinking optician at Specsavers Morningside spotted warning signs during an eye test.

Joanne Dovesi said daughter Ava had experienced months of unusual problems including blurry vision, headaches, fatigue, motor skills issues and, more recently, a limp.

Unable to get to the bottom of the issues, she asked her optician’s advice when Ava’s routine appointment came up at Specsavers in Morningside – resulting in the youngster’s immediate referral to hospital.

Urgent action

Optometrist Daniel Herbert at Specsavers Morningside had spotted severe swelling of Ava’s optic discs (known as bilateral papilodaema) caused by increased intracranial pressure – pressure inside the skull.

He made the discovery after asking more details on Ava’s symptoms and taking pictures of the back of her eye using digital retinal photography– a specialised microscope with a digital camera attached. He compared these with previous pictures and knew something was amiss.

Dan said: ‘I recommended that Ava visit the hospital immediately, as vision loss can result if the underlying condition causing swelling of the optic nerves is not treated. She was referred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children where a prompt diagnosis meant doctors could give her the treatment and medication she urgently required.’

After examination by a doctor and neurologist, the youngster had an MRI scan which confirmed hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid on the brain) and revealed Ava had a Chiari malformation, which is where the lower part of the brain pushes down onto the spinal cord, obstructing the flow of fluid.

Joanne said: ‘The surgeon told us that the fluid had been building up for a very long time and that the brain was so swollen it no longer had any room left in her head.

Ava’s head was so swollen it was almost the size of an adult male.’ Ava was given an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) – a surgical procedure in which an opening is created in the bottom of her brain to allow fluid to drain effectively.

Joanne continued: ‘I felt relieved to finally know what was causing Ava so many problems. As soon as she recovered from her operation she said “Mummy, my head feels so light now”. She was so used to pressure in her head that she believed it to be normal.’

Brand new girl

Six months on from the operation, Ava’s optic nerves have returned to normal and she is due for another scan in September. She no longer experiences tremors in her hands or balance issues and her motor skills have greatly improved while her memory is getting better each day.

Joanne added: ‘I have seen a huge change in Ava since the operation. I can’t thank Daniel and the team at Specsavers Morningside enough - Ava is better than she has ever been – she is a brand new little girl.’

Important reminder

Optometrist Daniel said Ava’s story was a reminder of just how important it is to seek expert advice.

He said: ‘I’m really pleased that Joanne brought Ava in to see us when she did. When she started to explain her different symptoms I was concerned, and when I saw her optic discs so swollen, I knew she needed to visit the hospital urgently for further treatment.

‘Ava’s diagnosis is a reminder that it’s essential to seek a professional opinion if you experience anything unusual – don’t ignore warning signs.

‘And even if you don’t have any symptoms that are out-of-the-ordinary, don’t forget to go for regular eye examinations as they are an important health check which should be a part of everyone’s overall health routine.’

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