Simple school eye exam saves child from losing sight in both eyes

More than 120 types of tumors can occur in the brain and central nervous system. One kind in particular is more common in young children. Often it is not easy to detect, but when a simple school eye exam raised a red flag about cancer, it saved one little girl from losing sight in both of her eyes.

It all began when Sara Saldana complained she couldn't read the chalkboard at school. Her mom took her in for an eye exam. She was given a pair of mild prescription glasses. For a while, everything seemed fine.

Her mother, Nicole Saldana, said: "Then, all of a sudden, we noticed she would say, 'Oh, I have a headache,'"  or, 'I think we need to go back to the doctor. I think I need stronger glasses.'"

However, it was when Sara became emotional during a routine school eye exam that her teacher became concerned, her mother said.

"The teacher said, 'Look, she's panicking. She's not cooperating. She's acting like she can't see anything,'" Saldana said. "So the teacher is actually the one who called me up and said, you know, 'Something's wrong.'"

Sara was diagnosed with optical nerve glioma, a type of tumor that most commonly occurs in children under the age of 10. This particular type of tumor accounts for 5% of all childhood brain tumors, according to Dr. David Tse.

The ophthalmologist said, "For some unknown, unexplained reason, there's an uncontrolled proliferation, benign proliferation of the tissues of the optic nerve, rendering it ineffective in conducting images." 

He explained the only way to keep the tumor from affecting Sara's right eye was to sever the optic nerve.

Although Sara lost vision in her left eye, her mom is counting her blessings. She said she is extremely grateful.

"Especially to her teacher, because if her teacher had not brought it to my attention, you know, like, 'Your daughter's fearful because she can't see,' I don't know if she would be able to see out of both eyes," Saldana said.

Three common symptoms of optical nerve glioma are

  • Balance problems.
  • Involuntary eye movements.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

The American Cancer Society describes optic gliomas as slow-growning and rarely fatal but says they can cause vision loss or injury to nearby brain tissue.