A teenager’s headaches prompted him to visit Specsavers – where he was told a growth in his brain could make him blind.
Charlie Leonard, 14, had been expecting to get a Nando’s takeaway after visiting the Cribbs Causeway opticians, but instead found himself being prepared for a major operation at Bristol Children’s Hospital.
The Backwell School pupil, from Flax Bourton, spent six days in the hospital in October, having a shunt inserted to his brain. He is now recovering well.
His mum Marie, 52, said: “I wasn’t really concerned before the eye test, so it was a huge shock when I found out we needed to go to hospital.”
Charlie experienced some headaches last spring, which eased but eventually came back around two weeks before his Specsavers visit. When they returned, they were accompanied by vomiting.
“It was not a constant thing,” said Marie. “I put them down to a migraine because the pain was behind his eyes.”
While he was off school for a few days, Marie took him to Specsavers in The Mall, where he had an appointment with optometrist Gaurav Patel. Gaurav said: “In the test room I got chatting to Charlie about football as well as his symptoms, and he explained about the headaches.
“His vision was good and he wasn’t a specs wearer, so I thought perhaps he was maybe just having a bit too much screen time.
“As soon as I started the examination, I could see something wasn’t right.”
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Taking photos of the back of Charlie’s eyes, Gaurav saw his optic nerves were slightly raised, suggesting a build-up of pressure in the brain.
Marie said: “After a short while, the optometrist came out and had a word with me. He explained Charlie had to go to A&E as soon as possible.
“He’d been at school that day and played football. He’d been expecting a Nando’s after the appointment. It was a bit surreal how it changed from such a normal day.
“Within a few hours, he was wired up to a machine on a high dependency ward awaiting an operation at the Children’s Hospital. They prepped him for an op that night.
“It was a very worrying time but I was in so much shock it was hard to take in.”
Doctors at the hospital confirmed the build-up of fluid in his brain, which they believed to be caused by a blockage.
“Charlie was then kept on a high dependency unit and monitored every hour,” Marie added.
“The next day he had an MRI which confirmed a growth in his brain was causing the blockage.
“It was scary to hear that and know that he would need an operation to relieve the pressure, as unfortunately the fluid couldn’t be drained.”
Due to the location of the growth and the high risk of it growing back if removed, a shunt was inserted instead, to redirect the fluid. A biopsy of the growth showed it was non-cancerous.
“I was with him the whole time,” said Marie. “Because of Covid, he could only have one person with him.
“The staff in the hospital were fantastic. Charlie was absolutely remarkable. There was an element of shock for him but he was so amenable.
“For a teenage boy being woken up every hour of the night and poked and prodded, he dealt with it really well.
“It was worse for him when he came out of hospital and the reality kicked in that he wouldn’t be able to play sport for months.”
Doctors told Marie her son could have lost his sight if the build-up had been left longer.
“The MRI showed the growth had been there quite a while, but I wasn’t told exactly how long,” she added.
“It’s going to take six months for the build-up and swelling to go down. Charlie’s going to need regular MRIs to check the growth.”
Marie joked: “He did get that Nando’s eventually. It was long overdue.”
Charlie, a keen footballer and big Bristol City fan, will not be able to play contact sport until he gets the green light from an MRI in March.
Marie said: “Charlie gets quite tired and is struggling a bit with concentration, but other than that he’s doing well. He’s had some headaches but not really awful ones.
“We did have to go back to Specsavers because he hadn’t done the full sight test. Fortunately he doesn’t need glasses.
“I’m so grateful to Gaurav for spotting the problem, as well as his prompt action. It made me realise the importance of eye tests.”
When Charlie returned, Gaurav could see his optic nerves were less swollen.
“It was great to see Charlie when he came back into the store,” the optometrist said.
“At that point I was able to use an optical coherence tomography scan which we’d had installed to get a more detailed image of Charlie’s optic nerves.
“His case demonstrates how important it is to get your eyes checked regularly, every two years, and also to make an appointment if you notice any changes in your vision.
“The earlier a problem is picked up, the better the chance of successful treatment.”
Appointments at Specsavers need to be made in advance. There are Covid restrictions on the number of customers allowed in-store, strict social distancing rules and, where possible, card instead of cash payments.