The parents of a six-year-old girl whose brain tumour was discovered thanks to a routine eye test have thanked Specsavers for saving their daughter’s life after a six-hour operation was required to remove the potentially deadly mass. Tanisha Castello, 31, a stay-at-home mum took her daughter, Sofia, then five, for an eye test two days after she became unwell.
At the test at Specsavers Warren Heath, an optician noticed something unusual, and the mum was urged to take Sofia to Ipswich Hospital. Once there, the youngster underwent scans and the news was broken to Tanisha and her partner Gareth Kidd-Stanton, 41, a postman, that their little girl had a brain tumour.
With no other option, Sofia went under the knife six days later in a six-hour operation to remove the mass that medics estimated had been growing for a year. Now six years old, Sofia has fully recovered and her parents credit Specsavers Warren Heath for “saving her life”.
Tanisha, who has three children – Sofia, Jaiden, five, and Rueben, 18 months – told PA Real Life: “Sofia had been complaining of headaches, which I initially put down to the excessively hot weather. But at her routine eye test, it was flagged that something serious was wrong, which led to her diagnosis and saved her life.
Sofia has fully recovered and her parents credit Specsavers Warren Heath for ‘saving her life’ (Collect/PA Real Life)
“Sofia has been so brave throughout it all, she was more upset about missing her sixth birthday party, which we’ve obviously rectified. We’re extremely grateful to all the Specsavers team and the medical staff at both Ipswich Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
“Sofia is now back to herself, dancing, being bubbly and cheeky – in fact the doctors have been amazed with the speed of her recovery.”
Tanisha was first alerted that something was not right with her daughter when she was called to collect Sofia early from school in July 2022.
Sofia’s tumour was flagged at a routine eye test at Specsavers (Sarah Lucy Brown/PA Real Life)
She said: “Sofia was sent home with a headache and sickness. We put it down to a sickness bug going around at school, plus there was a heatwave which I thought might have made her feel unwell.
“Two days later, she had a routine eye appointment scheduled which Gareth took her to.”
Tanisha said that within the first 10 minutes of the appointment, it was clear that something was not right as a senior optometrist took over to examine her with a retinal camera.
After inspecting the five-year-old’s eye scan, Tanisha and Gareth were urged to take Sofia straight to hospital.
Sofia underwent a six-hour operation to remove the tumour (Collect/PA Real Life)
Tanisha added: “They phoned the hospital ahead and told us that they were waiting for us. They said to not go home, not to do any shopping, but to go straight there.”
At Ipswich Hospital, Sofia underwent a CT scan which revealed the tumour.
“They broke the news to us that she had a large brain tumour, and after that was just a blur to be honest,” Tanisha said.
“I didn’t know what to think, everything happened very quickly.”
Sofia now has a five-inch scar at the back of her head (Collect/PA Real Life)
Tanisha accompanied Sofia as they were bluelighted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, while Gareth returned home to collect their two other children, pack bags, and meet them there.
Reunited at Addenbrooke’s, Sofia went for an MRI scan and, after results came in, medics advised that her only option was surgery to remove the tumour.
Tanisha said: “They estimated that it had been growing for a year and, if it hadn’t been caught when it had, it could have become fatal.
“It was unlikely to have been picked up by a doctor at a GP appointment because other factors, like the school sickness bug and the heatwave, could have been plausible answers for Sofia’s symptoms.
Tanisha says her little girl was ‘very brave’ (Collect/PA Real Life)
“We were incredibly lucky that the tumour had been caught.”
On July 22, 2022, Sofia was taken down to theatre for her six-hour operation where surgeons removed the tumour from the bottom of her head on the right-hand side.
Tanisha said: “She was very brave, in fact, the thing she was most upset about was that her birthday party had to be cancelled.
“Me and Gareth on the other hand, to be quite honest, I don’t know how we got through it.”
Recovering from surgery in intensive care, Sofia’s op had been a success.
Tanisha remarked that it was ‘such a relief’ to get back into normal family life (Collect/PA Real Life)
Surgeons had been able to remove all of the tumour and, sending it off for tests, results showed that the mass was not cancerous.
Back home, Tanisha remarked that it was “such a relief” to get back into normal family life.
And while Sofia now has a five-inch scar at the back of her head, she has “come on in leaps and bounds” since her ordeal.
Tanisha said: “She has her fatigue moments, but she is doing so well.
We were incredibly lucky that the tumour had been caught.
“She enjoys gymnastics and is doing what any normal child would be doing, she’s doing really well.”
Gareth added: “We owe everything to Specsavers Warren Heath, they were amazing. They picked up on the tumour straight away and knew something was wrong.
“They moved very quickly to get us medical help for our daughter and made sure that someone would be there so we would be seen to straight away.
“They did save her life.”
Sofia’s parents thank Specsavers Warren Heath for discovering the tumour (Sarah Lucy Brown/PA Real Life)
Ayanna Cooper, Specsavers Warren Heath optometrist director, said: “Our expert team are always on the lookout for cases like Sofia and were able to diagnose the problem using our retinal camera, which plays a vital role in the early diagnosis and prevention of many eye conditions.
“It’s great to hear that Sofia is making a full recovery, she’s been incredibly brave. It’s cases like Sofia’s that highlight the importance of having regular eye tests, regardless of whether you’ve noticed any unusual symptoms.
“I hope that stories like Sofia’s can encourage others to keep up with their regular eye health checks, as part of their eye test – because not everyone realises that the eye test is more than just whether you need glasses or not.”