Discovery of deadly cyst at free eye exam saves 11-year-old girl's life

A young girl has a free eye exam to thank after they discovered a life-threatening cyst near her brain. Photo / Caters.
A young girl has a free eye exam to thank after they discovered a life-threatening cyst near her brain. Photo / Caters.

A young girl has retail chain Specsavers to thank after one of its optometrists discovered a life-threatening cyst near her brain during a free eye exam.

Micayla Clark, 11, from Whangaparaoa, was shopping for a new pair of frames last month when she opted to take a free eye exam, during which the optometrist noticed swelling behind the eyes.

Micayla was immediately referred to a specialist and after a slew of tests in hospital, doctors confirmed she had an 8cm cyst pressing on her brain that had likely been growing since birth.

Mum Kim said: "It could have been fatal. I could have lost my little girl.

"We were so worried and they didn't tell us anything because they didn't want us to worry before we had to.

"The whole experience brought up a lot of anxiety because my son Bradley had passed away in the same hospital ward six years earlier."

In 1995, when Bradley was just 8, he suffered a head injury during a soccer match.

Two weeks later, during an underwater breath-holding contest at a family pool party, he suffered severe brain damage as the result of a delayed concussion.

It took paramedics 8.5 minutes to resuscitate Bradley, who subsequently spent three weeks in a coma in hospital.

For the next 11 years, Bradley was wheelchair-bound and severely disabled until pneumonia took him.

Micayla's brother Bradley who tragically passed away. Photo / Caters.
Micayla's brother Bradley who tragically passed away. Photo / Caters.



Kim said: "It was awful and horrific. I didn't think Bradley would die.

"He was the most amazing boy. He spoke through his eyes.

"I always held out hope that one day he would speak to me and be normal again.

"My mum passed away that year too and I believe that the two of them are together watching over us. Something that day made us walk into Specsavers.

"I have a feeling that they were looking down on us."

Micayla had no idea that she'd even have the eye exam that day, but while out shopping with mum she decided to pop into Specsavers to browse for new frames. Having outgrown her bold blue ones, she decided to save up for a flashy red pair.

The exam was standard and completely free - routine for Micayla, who has worn glasses since she was 8. While the optometrist snapped photos of Micayla's retinas, she could tell immediately that something was not right.

There was significant swelling behind both of Micayla's eyes.

Kim said: "The optometrist, Shelley, referred us to a specialist and a week later we got a phone call from Greenlane Clinical Centre requesting to see Micayla the next day.

"On the phone, the receptionist said, 'Don't panic. If it was serious we'd need you in today.'

"They ran so many tests on Micayla and we were too busy to panic.

"It wasn't until we were transferred to the neurological ward at Starship hospital in Auckland, the same place where Bradley died, that an MRI showed the growth near her brain.

"It was too much for me to be back there. My husband Bruce had to hold Micayla's hand during the tests."

The diagnosis was a suprasellar subarachnoid cyst that had been pressing on her pituitary gland, the part of the brain that controls growth and development, among other things.

Micayla also had hydrocephalus, meaning her brain wasn't draining fluid properly.

Five days later, Micayla was wheeled into theatre where doctors drained the cyst by drilling holes in her skull.

Doctors drilled holes in her skull to drain the cyst. Photo / Caters.
Doctors drilled holes in her skull to drain the cyst. Photo / Caters.

Kim said: "They told me they would shave her head and drill some holes through her skull to drain the cyst, but it ended up being a lot more invasive than they originally thought.

"She came out with a big horseshoe-looking scar from where they went through-but that's got to mean good luck. It freaked me out because I was expecting little holes."

If the cyst does not drain completely, Micayla might have to undergo a second surgery where doctors will insert a shunt into her brain. Fortunately, it doesn't seem as if that will be the case.

Kim said: "She's amazing. She's not running around like she normally does, but she's taken everything in stride.

"She doesn't complain about anything except her chores."

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