A Birmingham mum was heartbreakingly told her nine-year-old’s cloudy vision was because of a brain tumour.
Julie Fowler, 40, who also has sons Rhys, 16, and Keane, 13, with her roofer husband, Josh, 37, has told of daughter Madison’s story.
The mum, from Kingshurst, says: “It’s so important to get routine eye checks and if you do suffer from headaches, just try and take it further.
“I know schools check children’s eyes in reception, but I do think people don’t bother as much as they get older.
“It takes minutes to go and get your kids’ eyes checked – it’s really important.
“Maddie didn’t have really bad headaches and you would think with something as serious as a brain tumour that you would be really ill and unwell.
“You just don’t expect anything like that at all.”
Maddie – who like her brothers wears spectacles – first complained of headaches in March 2020, but the opticians were closed because of the first Covid-19 lockdown, so Julie could not get her eyes tested.
Thinking it might be stress, when the pain persisted, in May Julie took her to the local walk-in centre, where she was given blood tests and prescribed sinus sprays.
Julie added: “They checked her all over and said she was fine.
“They also did some blood tests, which were clear.”
But, a routine eye test in August revealed a significant change in Maddie’s prescription for long sight – prompting the optician to advise the mum to bring her back in three months.
When she went back at the end of October, Maddie was experiencing blurred vision, as well as continued headaches, worsening in the mornings, and a trainee optician discovered papilloedema – or a swollen optic nerve at the back of her left eye – and sent them straight to the eye hospital.
Julie said: “At the first eye test, everything was fine in the pictures, but there was a big change in her prescription, so the optician asked to see her again.
“But her headaches just continued and when we went back in three months, he discovered papilloedema at the back of her left eye told us to go straight to the eye hospital.”
She continued: “They took pictures of the back of her eyes, which are supposed to be pink and veiny, but hers were all cloudy and you could barely see the veins.
“No blood tests had picked anything up, so we would never have known if she hadn’t had her eyes checked.”
Checked later that day at Dudley Road Eye Hospital, she was then transferred to the city’s children’s hospital for MRI scans.
“She was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where they found a brain tumour the size of a ping pong ball,” Julie said.
“It was just such a big shock during a crazy time. It was very frightening.
“We were supposed to be going out Christmas shopping after the eye appointment. It’s just your worst fear coming true.”
Julie will be eternally grateful to the Specsavers optician who spotted that something was wrong.
“He was only 24 and hadn’t even finished qualifying,” she said.
“It was lucky he asked her to come back in three months or we wouldn’t have known anything was wrong.”
She added: “Still, I didn’t expect it at all. My husband was at work, so I was on my own with Maddie. It was terrifying.”
Brave Maddie was unfazed by all the drama.
“She was fine – nothing seemed to faze her,” Julie laughed.
“There were a lot of sick children in the hospital, but Maddie wasn’t bothered about it all,” she said.
, Julie said: “When we heard the word tumour, we did think the worst.”
She added: “But we pulled ourselves together and just got on with it for her sake.
“Our worst fear was it would come back as cancer but thank god it was benign.
“There is a possibility the tumour could grow back but we know what to look out for now.”
And Julie said: “My middle son was very upset – he took it the worst. The boys were just quiet and sad – especially as they couldn’t see her when she was in the hospital.”
“With the checks they do beforehand she was a bit wobbly on her feet,” Julie said. “But she recovered really well after both operations and came home just five days later, on Friday, November 13.
“She probably should have stayed in the hospital longer, but she was back on her feet so quickly it was hard trying to keep her still – she just wanted to get home!”
Maddie even regained her appetite just hours after surgery.
Julie said: “She came out of recovery that night and she was starving. I went to the shop and bought her chicken and pasta and she just sat there and ate the lot.
“The following day she got her catheter taken out and was back on her feet.”
She said: “The doctor said, ‘I don’t know what she’s made of but she’s amazing.’
“The nurses were worried she might be sick due to the drugs, but she was fine.
“I just thought, ‘Thank god, she’s talking and moving and eating.’”
Luckily, the day she was discharged, the family received the good news that the tumour was benign.
Julie said: “Because the doctors are wearing masks you can’t tell by their faces whether it’s good news or bad news.
“But it was good news, thank god.”
She said: “At first, being told I had a brain tumour made me feel confused because I didn’t know what was going on.
“And then when I was in the hospital, I felt upset when I had to have my operation.”
She added: “But I loved the milkshakes – they made me feel better.”
Meanwhile, Sukhi Drake, store director of Specsavers Castle Vale, is delighted that she is on the mend.
She said: “Stories like Madison’s show the importance of ensuring you and your family see your optician regularly, and of course of making an appointment right away if you notice any changes to your vision or experience any problems.