UK optometrist saves young niece's life after spotting cancer during an eye test
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A two-year-old in the U.K. was saved by her aunt, who diagnosed a concerning twinkle in her eye as cancer.
Laura Leafe, a 37-year-old optometrist, became worried about her niece, Olivia, after her sister-in-law, Ewelina Skwarlo, noticed an "unusual white glow" in her daughter’s eye.
Skwarlo snapped a photo and sent it to Leafe in February 2022 — and Leafe ushered Olivia in for an eye test two days later.
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Leafe was "shocked" to discover a rare type of eye cancer called retinoblastoma, she said.
"After the shock, I was very thankful to be an optometrist and in the position to be able to help at one of the most stressful times of my family’s life," she told SWNS.
Little Olivia and her mom, Ewelina Skwarlo, snap a selfie. Optometrist Laura Leaf sent her niece to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.(SWNS)
Leafe said she was "so glad" her sister-in-law asked her about her niece's eye reflection.
"If I hadn’t been in this profession the diagnosis may have come much later," she said.
The optometrist sent her niece to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
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After an exam at the hospital a few days later, health professionals confirmed that the little girl had eye cancer.
The child was sent to Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital in West Midlands for immediate treatment.
The white glow was spotted in the little girl's eye just after her second birthday.(SWNS)
"I remember these few days as very difficult, we were heartbroken, but we were trying to behave as normally as possible in front of Olivia as she was as happy as usual," Skwarlo told SWNS.
The girl underwent four rounds of intra-arterial chemotherapy, which involved injections directly into the eye.
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She also fought through five rounds of dual-agent intravitreal chemotherapy through August of 2022, SWNS reported.
Now three years old, little Olivia has seen her tumor shrink. It's now under control, despite a few small spots that require monthly checkups, cryo-freezing and laser treatments.
Young Olivia with her mom, Ewelina Skwarlo. The mom stresses the importance of parents watching for physical abnormalities in their children.(SWNS)
"Olivia, being only two at the beginning of this journey, was not really aware of what [was] happening," Skwarlo shared.
"Constant visits to the hospital, seeing nurses and doctors, going through various procedures — [all of this] had a big impact on Olivia as a child."
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The mother added, "We can tell she keeps changing as she is growing up."
She said her daughter understands more about what is happening now, and also understands that she is visiting doctors to treat her eye.
"Going through this experience made us stronger as a family, as we know it is important to be strong for each other."
Skwarlo first noticed the strange glow in Olivia’s eye just after her second birthday — while she was watching TV, she said.
"I was observing her eye in different angles as the glare was not easily visible," she also said.
Little Olivia is seen here on her third birthday. Typical signs of the eye cancer she experienced include a white glow, which may only appear in certain lights or angles. (SWNS)
"I just decided to take a few photos when the glare was more visible and send them to her dad to see what he [thought]. I did not think it was anything serious, but my instinct was telling me to check [out] what it was."
Upon researching what a "glare and reflection" in the eye could mean, Skwarlo began reading up on retinoblastoma, SWNS reported.
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Typical signs of the eye cancer include a white glow, which may only appear in certain lights or angles.
"Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children often seem well … which can make it hard to diagnose."
The cancer can also cause the eye to swell or change in appearance, according to the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT).
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CHECT CEO Richard Ashton told SWNS that retinoblastoma is rare, with about one child or baby in the U.K. diagnosed each week.
"Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children often seem well … which can make it hard to diagnose," he said. "In just under half of all cases, a child must have an eye removed as part of their treatment."
Young Olivia continues to receive monthly check-ups for the remaining cancer spots on her eye.(SWNS)
"We are grateful that Olivia’s case, her symptoms were recognized by her parents, her aunt and the hospital teams, and an urgent referral was made so that she could receive treatment," Ashton continued.
Skwarlo and her family "cannot stress enough how important it is to observe your child and if there is something suspicious to have it checked" right away, she said.
"This experience changed each of us individually, but also had a massive effect on us as a family," she told SWNS.
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Skwarlo added, "Going through this experience made us stronger as a family, as we know it is important to be strong for each other."
Angelica Stabile is a lifestyle writer for Fox News Digital.