Skip to content

Woman Saves Niece’s Life By Spotting Her Eye Cancer

When Laura Leafe's sister-in-law Ewelina Skwarlo saw a "strange white shine" in her daughter's eye, she became "worried". 

An optician “saved her niece’s life” after spotting cancer during an eye test.

Laura Leafe, 37, said she became “concerned” about her niece, Olivia, then 2, after her sister-in-law, Ewelina Skwarlo, 34, spotted an “unusual white glow” in her daughter’s eye in February 2022.

Ewelina took some photos and sent them to Laura before taking Olivia to see her auntie for an eye test after two days.

Laura was “shocked” to see retinoblastoma – a rare type of eye cancer – and referred Olivia to Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where she was seen a few days later.

After an examination at the hospital, doctors confirmed that Olivia had eye cancer, and she was sent to Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital, West Midlands, for treatment.

Oliva, now 3, underwent intra-arterial chemotherapy and the tumor shrank and is under control, but there are still small parts to treat, which means she will require monthly check-ups.

Laura, from Great Heck, North Yorkshire, said: “I was already concerned due to the photograph Ewelina had sent me, but I was shocked to see what I suspected to be a retinoblastoma.

“After the shock, I was very thankful to be an optometrist and in the position to be able to help at one of the most stressful times of my family’s life.

“I am so glad Ewelina asked about the ‘reflection.’

“If I hadn’t been in this profession, the diagnosis may have come much later.”

A white glow in Olivia’s eye. Just after Olivia turned two, her mother Ewelina first noticed an odd white shine in her eye. EWALINA SKWARLO/SWNS

Olivia’s mom, Ewelina, first noticed an unusual white glow in Olivia’s eye just after her second birthday.

Ewelina, who works in retail, from Whitley Bridge, North Yorkshire, said, “One day when she was watching TV, I noticed a strange glare in her right eye.

“I was observing her eye in different angles as the glare was not easily visible. I just decided to take a few photos when the glare was more visible and send them to her dad to see what he thinks.

“I did not think it was anything serious, but my instinct was telling me to check what it was.

“I decided to send the photos to Olivia’s aunt, Laura, who is an optometrist. In the meantime, I started to search on Google ‘glare and reflection’ in the eye.

“I came across retinoblastoma and started to read about it, and I started to panic that the white glow may be retinoblastoma, which I had never heard of before.

“Laura confirmed an appointment, and we went to have it checked.”

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) explain typical signs of retinoblastoma include a white glow which may only appear in certain lights or a squint, as well as a change in the appearance of the eye or a swollen eye, although often only one sign or symptom is present.

After the eye exam, Laura said there was a chance the glow was a retinoblastoma – the most common type of eye cancer in children.

Laura referred Olivia to the hospital – where she was seen by doctors a few days later.

Ewelina said: “After the examination, a diagnosis of retinoblastoma was confirmed.

“The very same day, we had a call from Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital confirming our appointment with the retinoblastoma team.

“I remember these few days as very difficult, we were heartbroken, but we were trying to behave as normally as possible in front of Olivia as she was as happy as usual.

“We cannot stress enough how important it is to observe your child and if there is something suspicious to have it checked straight away.”

The family rushed to Birmingham, West Midlands, in February 2022 and Olivia went in for further assessment, where they confirmed she would need treatment.

Olivia had four rounds of intra-arterial chemotherapy – where doses of cancer-killing medicine are injected directly into the eye.

The tot also had five rounds of dual-agent intravitreal chemotherapy which ended in August 2022.

Ewelina said: “This experience changed each of us individually, but also had a massive effect on us as a family.

“Olivia – being only two at the beginning of this journey – was not really aware of what is happening.

“Constant visits to the hospital, seeing nurses and doctors, going through various procedures had a big impact on Olivia as a child.

“We can tell she keeps changing as she is growing up, and she understands more now what is happening and that we keep visiting doctors to treat her eye.”

Laura Leafe, 37, said she became “concerned” about her niece, Olivia, after her sister-in-law, Ewelina Skwarlo, 34, spotted an “unusual white glow” in her daughter’s eye in February 2022. EWELINA SKWARLO/SWNS

Now Olivia receives monthly check-ups as well as cyro-freezing and laser treatments to keep cancer at bay.

The main tumour shrank and is under control, but there are still some small parts to treat.

Ewelina said: “For us as parents, it is a constant worry about cancer cells being under control and if there is a chance to get rid of it totally.

“Going through this experience made us stronger as a family, as we know it is important to be strong for each other.”

Richard Ashton, Chief Executive of CHECT, said: “Retinoblastoma is rare, with around one baby or young child being diagnosed in the UK each week.

“Symptoms can be quite subtle, and children often seem well in themselves which can make it hard to diagnose.

“In just under half of all cases, a child must have an eye removed as part of their treatment.”

“We are grateful that Olivia’s case, her symptoms were recognised by her parents, her aunt and the hospital teams, and an urgent referral was made so that she could receive treatment.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

Recommended from our partners