A 16-year-old from Wemyss Bay is recovering after a crucial visit to the optician led to life-saving surgery to remove a brain tumour. Cara Murdoch and mum Sharon are now hoping their experience will encourage others to make regular eye tests a part of their healthcare routine.
Cara had been experiencing headaches for a few months but when her symptoms worsened dramatically, following her return from a holiday in the Dominican Republic, she knew there was something seriously wrong.
“It felt almost like my brain was being squeezed,” she explains. “My hearing would change as well, where everything would be quiet and then suddenly get louder, and I was experiencing double vision.”
Understandably concerned, Sharon took her daughter to see the family GP, who diagnosed her with migraines. But, when she began being sick in the morning, they took her to A&E to get a second opinion. “Again, we were dismissed and told to return to our GP as he would be better at dealing with headaches,” says Sharon.
“Cara felt that everyone was dismissing her, and it was sad because she didn’t know when, or if, she was going to ever feel better again. It was only when we saw our GP again that eye tests were mentioned. We called our local Vision Express store in Greenock to check when she last had her sight checked and they found she wasn’t due her regular, appointment until the next month, but told us they would push her through for an immediate appointment that day because of her symptoms.”
Vision Express optometrist Heather Love says: “Experiencing symptoms such as headaches and double vision is a sign something is definitely not right, especially in a teenager like Cara.
“Sharon and Cara were both very distressed when they arrived because they knew something was seriously wrong and nobody was helping them. They were desperate, and my heart just went out to them. It’s not something you ever want to see in a young girl. I wanted to get across that I could help and get them to the right people.”
Heather explained Cara could have papilloedema, an inflammation of the optic nerve at the back of the eye caused by intracranial hypertension (increased pressure in the brain), which can be a sign of a brain tumour, lesion or swelling. “It’s not something I’ve ever seen before in a 16-year-old – it’s very unusual and very serious,” Heather continues.
“The most important thing was for somebody to look at Cara straight away, so I rang ahead to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and the neurology department were happy to see her that day.”
Sharon adds: “Although it was scary to get a diagnosis, there was a sense of relief because finally, somebody agreed with us that there was something wrong. Heather didn’t go into detail, but I could tell it was something serious, and it needed to be dealt with immediately.”
Within two hours of her appointment at Vision Express, Cara was seen by a neurological consultant at the hospital, where a CT scan revealed she had a brain tumour and she was admitted to the neuro-surgical ward.
Treated as an emergency, she was operated on at 11pm that night, where a drain was inserted and removed 300ml of fluid in a 24-hour period. Just a couple of days later, she was admitted into surgery again for a six-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the tumour.
“It was critical,” adds Sharon. “We were told it was a hemangioblastoma tumour, about one and a half centimetres in diameter, and it was this that had cause a blockage in Cara’s cerebellum, in turn causing her symptoms.”
After her surgery, Cara experienced swelling around the incision area and was re-admitted for fourlumbar punctures in five weeks.
Cara, who lives with Sharon, her dad Robert and 20-year-old sister Rachel, adds: “My headaches have disappeared and there’s no more sickness and I feel better than I have done in months.”
Following her operation, Cara had another CT scan, which revealed another two cysts in her brain, but as these are only around a millimetre in diameter, treatment is not currently required. Unfortunately, however, further testing has flagged signs of Von Hippel Lindau syndrome – a genetic imperfection that causes cysts to grow around the kidneys and pancreas, which, if left untreated, can develop into cancer.
Sharon adds: “We’d never heard of it and when you read about it online, it seems really scary. It can be genetic, so both my husband and I have had DNA testing and we are both clear, so Cara is the first in the family with the mutation of the gene.
“While there currently is no treatment, we’ve been reassured that Cara can live a normal life. We’re so thankful to Vision Express for initially referring her, as Cara is now in the system to have the backs of her eyes checked every year, as well as MRI and CT scans in her head and body.
“We went back to the Greenock store when Cara was first released from the hospital. We gave them some gift cards to say thank you – they were delighted to see her. We’ll always be indebted to the team. We’re so grateful they were able to find it so quickly, as it could have been so much worse.”
With a positive outlook for Cara, she hopes to continue her plans to study events or business management at university after finishing her Highers.
Sharon is now encouraging others to prioritise regular eye tests, and adds: “It’s so important to consider eye tests as part of a regular health routine. Optometrists are just as important as GPs and A&E consultants. As in our case, they can pick up things that might have been missed – and it could save your life.”
Vision Express offers an eye test to best practice guidelines of the College of Optometrists (COO), with each Vision Express optometrist being a qualified eye health professional. To book an eye test at the Greenock store call 01475 726012, or visit Unit 24 Hamilton Way, Oak Mall Shopping Centre, Greenock PA15 1RH. Make an online enquiry at: www.visionexpress.com/book-eye-test/
About Vision Express
Vision Express is one of the largest optical retailers in the UK and part of GrandVision, the global leader in optical retail operating in more than 40 countries, spanning over 6,500 stores and online.
With almost 600 stores nationwide, Vision Express first opened its doors in Newcastle in 1988. Built on a passion for the profession, it has gone from strength to strength, driven by a commitment to unparalleled customer service and providing the best individual optical care, the right product and great value. Customers can select from a vast range of genuine designer brands and the latest technology lenses, through to complete glasses from £39.
With around 6,000 employees, Vision Express makes a significant difference to the communities it operates within, and the organisations it chooses to support. As part of its commitment to Vision. Taken Seriously, and as a responsible and caring retailer, Vision Express is proud to partner with a range of healthcare charities, which have touched the lives of customers and teams. These companies provide vital support to people affected by vision-related conditions. They are part of the Vision Express Charity Project and include:
- Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT)
- International Glaucoma Association
- Macular Society
- Stroke Association
- Temple Street University Hospital