A MORPETH student is battling back from major surgery after his first-ever eye test revealed signs of a brain tumour.
Fifteen-year-old Karl Carter has been suffering from severe headaches for the last three months, but put it down to spending too much time on the computer or exam stress, while a doctor he visited during a holiday to Turkey said it could be vertigo.
But two weeks ago the pain became so bad that Karl visited his own GP in Morpeth, who advised him to go for an eye test.
And when he was examined by optometrist Kevin Gray, signs of a tumour were spotted.
Within a week the tumour was removed and Karl is on the road to recovery.
Now he is eager to warn others to look out for the symptoms and to make sure they have regular eye checks.
“I had been suffering headaches for over three months on and off, but we have all just been saying it was because I was on the computer or Xbox and just dismissing it as normal lifestyle activities,” he said.
“This was the first time in 15 years that I had my eyes tested and that is how the tumour was found.
“I want to go out and tell other people about the importance of having their eyes tested. It is not common what I have got, but there could be more cases and people don’t know about it. It is very serious.
“My eyes have always been fine. I could read perfectly with no blurred vision, but I will be going to the optician regularly now.”
Karl’s parents Tracey and Pieter are also keen to spread the word as they too had no idea their son had such a serious illness.
Even after Mr Gray had told them there was unusual swelling on Karl’s optic nerve, suggesting a build-up of pressure, it was unclear what was causing it.
And it was only when Karl was referred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle for MRI and CAT scans that a firm diagnosis could be made.
Karl was taken into the RVI on Friday, November 23, just three days after his visit to the opticians, and had his operation the following Monday.
Mr Carter said: “We never ever thought it was a tumour or something as serious as that. It was only when they did the MRI scan that we realised.
“There were a lot of people who helped us at the hospital and they explained what the procedure was. Out of the three of us Karl was the calmest of the lot.
“You feel so emotional because there is nothing you can do for him and you are trying to be strong for him, but you have to hide how you feel a bit.
“At home you go to bed, sleep and get up the next morning for work. I had a bed beside Karl in the hospital and I was waking up more than every hour, just checking to make sure everything was ok, but he was lying fast asleep as if there was nothing on his mind.”
After Karl’s operation his parents had an anxious night waiting to find out how he would recover, but when they returned to the hospital the next morning they found him sitting in bed with a cup of tea and toast and astounding doctors with his progress.
And within days he was back with his family at their home in Castle Close, even though he will have to wait a little longer to return to classes at King Edward VI School.
Mrs Carter said: “It was frightening stuff. For all you hear about these things you never dream of it happening to you and your family.
“It has been so emotional, like a whirlwind. It felt like we were in the hospital a long time waiting for the operation, but when we look back now I can’t believe it is just over a week ago.
“I had put the Christmas tree up just before all this started, but the lights weren’t on or anything and then this happened. I just felt like throwing the tree out the window, I thought to hell with Christmas this year.
“Now the lights are on, the tree is up and Christmas is back on again.”
Karl will still have to have more treatment and is due to start chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the New Year, but his family are ready to support him throughout the journey and are aware that the situation could have been worse.
Mrs Carter said: “All of the care has been spot on, really good, everything has been marvellous.
“We are so thankful to Mr Gray for spotting the signs. It just highlights how essential eye tests are.
“A lot of people will be walking around with headaches, but never presume it could be something like this and do nothing, and there are others who don’t get these symptoms. It is so important to get your eyes checked.”
Mr Gray, who works at Robert Green and Partners Opticians in Bridge Street, echoed the advice.
“Fortunately, this sort of thing is really quite unusual, but it does highlight the need for regular eye care.
“I’m just delighted in this case that Karl is making a first-class recovery,” he said.
“People with this condition don’t always get headaches. Not everyone with a tumour will show that, but here we examine the back of the eye so we can see changes.
“We pick up on this sort of thing about once a year. It is something that is potentially life-threatening so it is important to have checks.”