Scots schoolgirl has 4cm tumour removed from brain after eye test saves her life

By Claire Elliot

A brave Scots schoolgirl has had a tumour the 'size of a golf ball' removed from her brain four days after her mum took her for an eye test thinking she needed glasses.

Laura McInally, 33, put the handful of times her daughter Kara, 7, complained of a headache down to her straining to see or being dehydrated.

But a trip to the optician for a precautionary check-up after school, a fortnight before Christmas, ended up saving her life.

Just four days later, on December 11, Kara had major surgery to remove a 4cm tumour from her brain.

The optician at her local Specsavers branch noticed Kara’s optic nerve was swollen and immediately referred her to University Hospital Hairmyres, East Kilbride, where a scan confirmed the growth beneath her skull.

Kara with proud mum Laura and sister Khloe (Michael Traill)

The devastating news came just months after Mrs McInally and husband Kevin, 44, almost lost their youngest daughter, Khloe, who was born with a rare lung condition in March last year [2021].

“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” she said. “I thought she’d just need lenses or glasses. I didn’t have time to process it all. On the Tuesday we were at the opticians being told her optic nerve was swollen and four days later, on the Friday, she’s in surgery getting a brain tumour removed. It was scary.

"Me and her dad were allowed to go down to theatre with her. I was holding her hand and chatting about what she wanted for Christmas, and at the same time the anaesthetist whispered in my ear, ‘10 seconds’ [before she falls asleep], and I didn’t know if it was going to be the last conversation I’d have with my wee girl.”

Kara underwent surgery to remove the tumour (Michael Traill)

The couple, from Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, were warned that due to the location of the tumour there was a 20 per cent chance Kara’s speech, learning and mobility would be impaired following the operation.

They were also told to prepare for their daughter to spend Christmas in hospital.

But remarkably Kara, who loves swimming, dancing and athletics, was well enough to go home on December 21 - in time to help her baby sister celebrate her first Christmas.

Mrs McInally said: “I asked ‘how quickly will we know if she has any impairment?’ and they said ‘straight away’, and we were just bracing ourselves for her being this different person.

“But she’s surprised us all at how she’s just bounced back into the wee person she is.

“The tumour was the size of a golf ball and you just think, ‘how did that fit in a seven-year-old’s head without having any impairment’.

“She had no neurological symptoms to suggest there was something going on. She just got a few headaches on and off for a couple of weeks and a migraine, which was the trigger to take her to get her eyes tested.”

Kara’s eye appointment was after a normal day at school but, less than 24 hours later, consultants at Hairmyres, with the help of their colleagues at the paediatric department at University Hospital Wishaw, confirmed a “fluid mass within her brain”.

The next day the primary three pupil was transferred to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow.

She had further scans and tests and the risky three-and-a-half hour operation to remove the tumour was performed the following morning.

Mrs McInally said: “We were shown at CT scan of the mass, which was a tumour with a cyst attached, and we were told the only way to treat it was to surgically remove it.

“On the Thursday, it felt so real that this could be the last night with our daughter, because we didn’t know how this surgery was going to go.

“We were there when she went to sleep and just had to hope that she would come back the way we left her.

“Now we’re three weeks post-surgery and she’s just an amazing wee miracle and I can’t believe how brave she has been. I’m so proud of her.

“She’s quite sensitive and to see her go through all that and barely shed a tear …. I don’t know where she got her strength from.”

Surgeons had to cut Kara’s scalp from ear to ear and remove part of her skull, just behind the crown of her head, to extract the tumour and save her life.

Only eight months earlier doctors at the children’s hospital saved her baby sister, when a rare anomaly meant Khloe’s first breath failed to open her lungs, leaving them filled with fluid instead of air.

The 10-month-old, who also had a hole in her heart, spent the next week sedated and hooked up to full life-support as medics battled to keep her alive.

She finally came off a ventilator on Mother’s Day and the family thought their worries were behind them, when they got Kara’s shock diagnosis last month.

Mrs McInally, who has since thanked the optician for picking up the anomaly with Kara's optic nerve, now believes that anyone suffering from headaches should make an appointment with their optician before going to their GP.

She said: “If someone said to me their kid’s got a headache, I’d say go to the optician first to rule things out. Opticians can pick up on so much just by looking at the back of your eye. The optician and all the staff at the hospitals were just amazing with Kara and ourselves.”

The family is now looking forward to 2022 more than most, knowing how fortunate they are to still have both their daughters.

Mrs McInally said: “We just want to scratch 2021 off the cards and move on.

“I know there are people still waiting for referrals due to Covid, but we have relied on the NHS so much in 2021 and we can’t ask for anything more - they saved both our daughters’ lives.

“We are just so lucky to have two daughters who are so strong.”

The family is still waiting to hear if Kara’s tumour was benign or cancerous but surgeons have said they are confident they managed to remove the entire growth.

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