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First eye check results in vital treatment for Lerwick school girl

Thursday, 27 September 2018

FIVE-YEAR-OLD Etta Hannah had her first eye health check ahead of starting school this year, resulting in the crucial diagnosis of a large brain tumour on her spinal cord. 

Etta, from Lerwick, had no problems with her vision but her mum, Jennifer Murray, was advised by her health visitor to take Etta for a routine eye check.

At Specsavers in Lerwick, store director Thomas Bruin completed Etta’s eye check, but after examining the back of Etta’s eyes he had cause for concern.

Jennifer says: ‘Thomas had such a great manner with Etta and made it a fun and less daunting experience for her. Following Etta’s test, Thomas spoke to me individually explaining the results and expressing the urgent need for an emergency hospital appointment and CT scan.’

At the Gilbert Bain Hospital, it was confirmed from the CT scan that Etta had extreme swelling of the optic nerve which could have resulted in the loss of her sight.

An eye specialist doctor from Aberdeen was due to make a regular visit to Shetland and Thomas secured an appointment for Etta. At her eye clinic appointment, doctors exhausted tests and then referred Etta to the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital to see a neurologist.

An MRI scan in Aberdeen subsequently found a large brain tumour at the back of her neck which had spread down her spine.

Etta was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh for emergency surgery to fit a shunt and relieve pressure on her brain. A few weeks later, Etta had another surgery, this time to complete a biopsy of the main tumour, which reduced it in size by 50%.

Jennifer adds: ‘If our hospital on the island had an MRI scanner it’s possible that Etta’s tumour could have been spotted and treated sooner, but thankfully Etta’s surgeries have been successful and she was allowed back home to start her first week of primary school.

‘We have now moved to Aberdeen for three months as Etta starts 18 months of low level chemotherapy.

‘I’m so grateful to Thomas at Specsavers, his early detection and perseverance in arranging our appointment with the eye specialist doctor made all the difference. I believe he helped save my daughter’s sight.’

Etta’s dad, Robert Hannah adds: ‘I had noticed some changes in Etta’s behaviour and a lack of appetite, but I would never have thought it could be a brain tumour.

‘We made several appointments with the doctor and health visitors but with no diagnosis, and being told I was overreacting, I had to go with my parental gut instinct and keep looking for ways to figure it out. If you feel there is something not right, an eye test could help rule out any concerns. Finally we have an answer and Etta can get the treatment she needs.’

Etta will have a shunt and require further testing for the rest of her life, with regular MRI scans as she grows. Etta and her family live close to the local hospital in Lerwick but will need to make regular trips to the mainland for these vital check-ups. 

Thomas Bruin, store director of Specsavers in Lerwick, says: ‘We can detect several underlying health conditions from an eye health check, it’s not simply changes in prescription.

‘During National Eye Health Week this week, and throughout the year, we’re encouraging everyone in Scotland to stop and think about their eye health and book that all important test. We recommend getting your eyes checked every two years and, as tests are free through the NHS in Scotland, there really is no reason to delay.

‘Etta’s case, although very rare, is an example of just how vital an eye exam can be.’