Eastbourne mum nearly lost her sight from brain tumour

A pregnant mum-of-three from Eastbourne nearly went blind due to a brain tumour.

Carla Hempe, 35, was in the early stages of her pregnancy last December when she noticed changes in the vision of her right eye.

Her GP referred her to the minor eye clinic at Specsavers who then referred her to the eye clinic at the DGH.

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Further tests were carried out and a few days later she was referred for an MRI scan. Eight weeks later, the scan confirmed that she had a mass which was compressing her optic nerve and causing the changes to her vision.

Carla with baby Arthur. Photo from The Brain Tumour Charity. SUS-210915-103342001

At this point Carla’s vision had got much worse – she couldn’t differentiate between colours with her right eye.

Carla said, “Pregnancy has always impacted on my vision – it does change every cell in your body – so it didn’t think too much of what was happening at the time.

“I was surprised when the Specsavers specialist said that they had never seen a reaction like mine to the test before – especially as they said that my actual eye was fine and healthy.

“I no longer felt safe or comfortable doing even simple things which wasn’t easy when looking after three children and when I was pregnant too. It was really frightening how my sight had changed so significantly in a short space of time.”

Carla with her children. Photo from The Brain Tumour Charity. SUS-210915-103402001

Carla was officially registered as sight-impaired and diagnosed with a suprasellar meningioma – a type of non-cancerous brain tumour which affects both the optic nerve and pituitary gland and its role in hormone regulation.

Despite being 28 weeks pregnant, the best course of action for Carla was to have surgery in the hope of removing as much of the tumour as possible.

She also took steroids to try and shrink the tumour and also get her unborn baby’s lungs as strong as they could be should he be born prematurely.

Carla said, “As a mum, our kids always come first in all that we do. But, for the first time, I had to do something for me which could potentially have a negative impact on my unborn son.

“The medical team regularly monitored his heart rate and there was a cot and incubator ready for him just in case which was so scary.

“I knew I was in good hands though – in fact, I was a bit famous at the hospital because of my unique situation and also because of my tumour type – my neurosurgeon had only seen four cases like mine in his 10 years’ experience.

“The only thing which kept me going through it all was the belief that this was the only way I would be able to see my little boy when he was born. We didn’t know if my vision would come back but we knew that it would only get worse or even be lost completely if we did nothing. I needed to be able to see the faces of all of my beautiful children again.”

The surgery successfully removed most of the tumour and Carla didn’t need any further treatment. She now has regular scans to monitor her condition.

Following the surgery, Carla’s vision improved but it has once again deteriorated over time. She hopes that her visual impairment status will be revoked in the future so that she will be able to legally drive again.

Importantly, baby Arthur was born happy and healthy on June 18.

Carla said, “After all of my concerns, being able to see my baby Arthur’s face was just amazing. I know how fortunate we both are after all we have both been through together already.”

Carla is raising money for The Brain Tumour Charity by taking part in the virtual Twilight Walk – covering 100km throughout October.

She said, “As a mum of four, I don’t have much time or money to give but I knew that I needed to do something to help as this charity and their cause is obviously something which is so close to my heart now.

“The Brain Tumour Charity have been a great source of information for me, especially when I was first diagnosed and I knew nothing about what it really meant.

“There is, of course, the risk that the tumour could grow back and that I could have more surgery or treatment ahead of me, which means I can’t really draw a line under what has happened. But I do know that it isn’t going to take my life so that I am grateful for.”

Carla wants to encourage people to get their eyes tested regularly.

Giles Edmonds, Specsavers clinical services director, said, “Regular eye tests are so important as not only can they detect any changes in sight but they can also pick up wider health concerns. If people have missed their appointment during the pandemic, I urge them to rebook. It’s important that people have regular appointments – even if they don’t think anything is wrong – as many conditions are symptomless in the early stages.”

You can donate to Carla’s fundraising challenge at: https://www.thetwilightwalk.com/fundraising/carlas-fundraising-page1955