Ellie Smith was 20 months old when mum Carrie Clarke spotted something unusual in her daughter’s eye on a family day out. Carrie took Ellie to Specsavers in Cumbernauld where optometrist Antonia McNeill examined the toddler’s eyes. She found a ‘white reflex’, and referred her to Hairmyres Hospital.
Following tests, Ellie was found to have retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that creates tumours on the retina. Having undergone chemotherapy and surgery to remove the eye, Ellie is now a healthy five-year-old who is enjoying her first year at Kildrum Primary School.
Mum Carrie clearly remembers the day when she spotted something unusual in Ellie’s eye. She said: ‘We were in a museum cafe in Glasgow and I thought her right eye didn’t look right. It looked like the reflection of a cat’s eye in the dark.
“I made an appointment with the doctor, but he didn’t think it was serious, and advised me to go to an optician if it was still there in a few months.
“Thankfully I went to Specsavers the next day and Ellie had her eyes examined by Antonia, who noticed that something was wrong. Antonia was very calm, but explained her concerns and made an appointment for Ellie at Hairmyres Hospital the following day.”
Ellie underwent tests before being sent to the Royal London Hospital, one of only two hospitals in the UK specialised in retinoblastoma. Doctors then confirmed that there was a tumour in her eye. Carrie said: “I was totally shell-shocked as Ellie was such a happy, healthy baby who had shown no symptoms.
“We were in London for two days and then Ellie began six months of chemotherapy at Yorkhill Hospital. We were in hospital every week, sometimes for a day, or longer if Ellie was poorly or took a bad reaction to the treatment.”
Ellie continued to visit the Royal London Hospital every three months and eventually the tumour shrunk. However, months later Ellie relapsed and had her eye removed in December 2009.
Carrie said: “It was sad that they had to remove Ellie’s eye, but a relief knowing that the tumour had also been removed. We focused on giving Ellie a fantastic Christmas, and beginning the path to recovery.”
Ellie is now in remission and will undergo an eye examination once a year. Carrie added: “Ellie she tells classmates about her eye, which she calls her ‘princess eye’. We make sure she is very careful when crossing the road, but she is fully active and enjoys playing with her dolls, and she’s mad about racing cars, just like her dad, Jamie Smith.
“I’m so grateful to Antonia and I’d advise parents to get their child’s eyes tested from a young age.’
Antonia said: “Ellie has been incredibly brave during her treatment and recovery and I’m delighted she is doing so well.’’
“When Carrie brought Ellie in for an eye examination, I could clearly see a white reflex in her eye. Retinoblastoma is one of the many diseases which an eye examination can detect, and it reinforces the importance of having annual check-ups, at any age.
“As well as tumours, eye examinations can detect aneurysms, glaucoma and cataracts, and we would advise anyone who has noticed any abnormalities, or is due their annual eye examination, to make an appointment.’