Eye test saves dad's life

MARRIED father of two Stephen Abbott is thanking his lucky stars after a routine eye test ended in a lifesaving operation to remove a tumour.

Craig Robinson

MARRIED father of two Stephen Abbott is thanking his lucky stars after a routine eye test ended in a lifesaving operation to remove a tumour.

The 51-year-old decided to visit his local opticians in Felixstowe because he was occasionally seeing purple spots and dark patches in his peripheral vision.

Optometrist Kele Pule discovered a swollen optic nerve - known as a papilloedema - and immediately referred him to Ipswich Hospital for more tests.

A MRI scan showed a tumour at the base of the spine and surgeons performed a lifesaving operation to remove the growth.

School inspector Mr Abbott, who has also been head of mathematics at Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge, and deputy headteacher at Claydon High School near Ipswich, knows he was extremely lucky doctors found the tumour so quickly.

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“I'd had a fairly recent check up but I started to get visual disturbances in my eyes - like purple spots in my field of vision and a darkening effect round the periphery,” he said. “I could still see OK - it wasn't stopping me from doing anything - but I knew something wasn't right.

“Although the symptoms weren't that dramatic I thought it was getting worse so I went to the doctors and they suggested I go back to the opticians. When she saw me she did a thorough examination and discovered I had a swollen optic nerve. Because the condition is so rare she'd never actually seen one before so it was a particularly good one to spot.”

Within an hour Mr Abbott was sent to Ipswich Hospital but weeks of tests were to follow while doctors tried to discover the cause of the problem.

A lumbar puncture confirmed raised pressure in his spinal and intracranial fluid and also revealed very high protein levels in the fluid.

Eventually a MRI scan showed a tumour at the bottom of Mr Abbott's spine - thought to be the cause of the vision problems.

Ten days later, on October 20, he went under the knife at Addenbrookes Hospital to have it removed.

He is now recovering at his Felixstowe home and is being looked after by his wife, Barbara, 51, and his two daughters Katherine, 25, and Helen, 22.

“My youngest daughter graduated from Suffolk New College on October 30 so I was able to hobble into the graduation ceremony and my eldest daughter got married on November 15, so I had to get well for that,” Mr Abbott said. 'It was a very worrying and exhausting time for the whole family because it took a while before the scan on my back revealed the tumour - I was in hospital from September 19 until October 23.

“I was told by the doctors that most people with tumours like mine aren't diagnosed until they start to experience leg or bladder problems. I feel very lucky that I was seen by Kele and that she was able to pick up on it so quickly.”

Mr Abbott's eyesight problems have now disappeared - although he is still waiting for the results of some final tests before he can be given the all clear.

Miss Pule - who is from South Africa and has been working at Specsavers in Felixstowe since May - said she was delighted to hear that he was on the road to recovery.

“The condition is not very common - Stephen's case is the first I've ever seen,” she said. “If he hadn't come in for an eye examination, it is possible the condition would have continued to have remained undiagnosed.

“I would therefore like to remind people that if they are experiencing unusual changes to their eyes, however minor or insignificant they may seem, always get them checked out by an optician.”