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How an eye exam saved my life

Everyone knows that regular eye exams are important to ensure healthy vision, but for both Dennis Hewitt and Dean Randall an exam proved to be lifesaving.

“Earlier this year I started experiencing clouded vision but I didn’t think there was anything wrong. I’ve had issues with my eyes on a few occasions over the past 18 years,” explained Mr Hewitt. “I visited my ophthalmologist earlier this year to have slight clouding in one eye rectified by laser treatment.”

But when ophthalmologist Dr Andrew Traill examined Mr Hewitt’s eyes, he noticed something was wrong and immediately urged him to get a blood test.

“Part of a routine eye test is to check the back of the eye using a microscope and a special lens,” explained Dr Traill. “When we examined Mr Hewitt, the retina at the back of the eye had a number of deep retinal bleeds indicating a potential underlying complication. I immediately referred Dennis for a blood test.”

Within days of his blood test, Mr Hewitt was asked to see a haematologist at the Royal Hobart Hospital where he was diagnosed with a rare type of leukaemia known as hairy cell leukaemia. Mr Hewitt was immediately put on treatment and underwent further bone marrow tests and a blood transfusion followed by weeks of platelets and chemotherapy.

“Within a few days of completing five consecutive days of chemo as a day patient, my temperature rose above 38 degrees. I had previously been advised that this was likely following this type of treatment, so as recommended I immediately went to the emergency department of the hospital,” said Mr Hewitt. “I was subsequently admitted and, during the next four days, my temperature returned to normal. I was told that the rise in temperature was due to an infection, not an unusual situation.”

“The latest blood results were not quite satisfactory but I’m getting there. Thankfully Dr Traill spotted the problem and so I was able to get treatment quickly. Everything is looking very positive now and the condition is 90% treatable.”

Dean Randall was also shocked to learn he was suffering from a potentially fatal condition after an eye examination by his ophthalmologist uncovered a brain tumour. Mr Randall had been suffering from headaches and double vision for some time when his GP referred him to an ophthalmologist.

“I kept collapsing and just couldn’t get back up. I could feel my body weight and it felt like a black cloud would just descend on me,” explains Mr Randall.

Although his sight was fine, ophthalmologist Dr Diana Semmonds recognised the signs of a potentially dangerous condition and sent him for a brain MRI.

“Mr Randall’s GP referred him to me because of the problems he was having with double vision, which could indicate a number of eye conditions,” explained Dr Semmonds. “However, during the eye examination I noticed a swelling of Mr Randall’s optic nerve which can be a symptom of serious conditions such as a brain tumour. I referred Mr Randall for a brain MRI to identify the cause of the swelling.”

Days later Mr Randall was at Macquarie University Hospital undergoing brain tumour surgery.

“I went for the MRI on Wednesday and had surgery on Monday,” says Mr Randall. “After the surgery the nurse asked ‘On a scale of one to ten, how is your headache?’ and I said ‘Zero’. I was so relieved to finally feel well again.”

The headache’s gone and my vision is good. I was lucky because the tumour was in between the inside of my skull and the outside of the brain. It turns out that the tumour had been there for a long time.”

Mr Randall is now recovering and making the most of his time with his daughter and grandchildren who have come over from France to see him.

“I’m lucky that this was spotted early on. I don’t know what could have happened if it hadn’t been caught when it was,” says Mr Randall. “I didn’t think that an eye exam could pick up other health issues. I would advise everyone to have a regular eye check. It could save your life.”

“An eye exam can reveal potential underlying health problems even when the patient’s eyes and vision appear to be fine,” explains Dr Semmonds.

An eye exam can help detect:
• Diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Cancer
• Tumours
• Autoimmune disorders.

If you are experiencing any issues with your vision or are concerned about your overall health, please speak with your GP or optometrist who can refer you to an ophthalmologist if further eye examinations are required.

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Emma Carr or Laura Safaj at RANZCO 02 9690 1001 or at media@ranzco.edu