Parents in the region are recognising the importance of their children’s eye health thanks to a special event held at Vision Express Metrocentre, aimed at driving awareness of a rare eye cancer and encouraging under 16’s to have regular eye examinations.

With research revealing that less than one in three parents have ever had their child’s eyes checked, last Friday’s (12 May) drop-in clinic invited families to the Gateshead store for a free sight test to mark Retinoblastoma (Rb) Awareness Week (8-14 May 2017).

Run by Vision Express team members and representatives from the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) – one of the national optician’s charitable partners, the event also included a reading by children’s author Ged Adamson and was well received by local parents and their youngsters.

Ged’s book Douglas, you need glasses follows the journey of a dog with bad eyesight.

Inspired by Ged’s own experience of wearing glasses for the first time as a teenager and finally being able to see clearly, the story has a serious health message but is still fun for children.

The writer and illustrator believes it is important for families to keep on top of eye checks and has been contacted by parents saying how useful the book has been in helping to encourage their youngsters to wear glasses.

Ged said: “I was really happy to be part of the event, it’s a great initiative to be involved with.”

Eight-year-old Lucas Cataudo and sister Hannah, 10, along with dad, Simon listened to the reading.

The Newcastle family were at Vision Express for Lucas’ check-up after the schoolboy scratched his eye with the corner of a book a few months ago.

Simon thinks the drop-in clinic will help others to realise how vital regular checks are. He said: “Events like this are important to ensure parents get children’s eyes tested.”

Sunniside mum, Emma Bowman takes her eight-year-old daughter, Jessica for eye examinations once a year but admits she had not heard of retinoblastoma prior to the event. She said: “We did not know details of retinoblastoma, but saw a post on Facebook where a photo was taken of a child and they had a white eye, which turned out to be cancer.”

Emma, who is expecting another child, believes parents should recognise the importance of eye health. “We come regularly for check-ups – the same as we visit the dentist,” she added. “Eyes are just as important as teeth and ears.”

Joining the Vision Express Metrocentre team to educate visitors on retinoblastoma, and the signs and symptoms to be aware of was Petra Maxwell, information and research manager at CHECT. The team also welcomed a young retinoblastoma survivor as its guest of honour.

Longbenton youngster, Corey Scott was diagnosed with the rare condition last December after his mum, Rachael Campbell, noticed a strange glow in her two-year-old son’s eye.

Less than a week later, just a couple of days before Christmas, the two-year-old had undergone life-saving surgery to remove his left eye.

Now the family is eager to increase awareness of Rb and encourage more parents to realise the importance of regular eye tests for children.

Corey’s dad, John said: “Corey’s doing fine now and has been fitted with an artificial left eye. We weren’t even sure he knew what was happening as he was, and still is, so young.  Afterwards, we found out he had been blind in that eye for at least three months before he was diagnosed, but he showed no signs of struggling and he hadn’t had an eye test yet. His good eye has been checked now, though, and his vision is fine.

“After Corey was diagnosed, I tried to share his story on Facebook but it’s hard to get people to take notice unless they’ve heard of it or it’s happened to someone they care about. That’s why events like this are so important.”

Around 50 to 60 cases of Rb are diagnosed each year and while 98% of those diagnosed will survive, they may face having an eye removed or have lasting vision impairment issues. Vision Express was the first optician in the UK to roll out a protocol to ensure a quick and effective referral if Rb is suspected.

Vision Express Metrocentre store manager Janice Bainbridge, said: “We’re really pleased with the success of the event and think it helped to increase awareness of Rb among North East parents, as well as urging them to take care of their children’s eye health by having regular eye tests.”

Children’s sight can be tested at any age, and it’s recommended that they see an optometrist before they start school and begin learning to read. With eyes being fully developed by the time youngsters are eight years old, any sight defects that have gone undetected by that time are largely irreversible.

All children under the age of 16, or under 19 and in full-time education, are entitled to a free eye test and a contribution towards glasses or lenses on the NHS.

Vision Express offers an eye test to best practice guidelines of the College of Optometrists (COO), with each Vision Express optometrist being a qualified eye health professional. To book an eye test at the Metrocentre store call 0191 460 0644, visit 81/83 Russell Way, Metrocentre, Gateshead NE11 9XX or make an online enquiry at: www.visionexpress.com/book-eye-test/.

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