By Hannah Crocker
A little boy with a rare eye cancer was saved by his TOOTHBRUSH – after his mum spotted a strange white glow in his eye while brushing his teeth.
Adorable Ethan Warman was just 23 months old when he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in September last year – and within 48 hours he had surgery to remove his right eye and then four rounds of chemo to stop the cancer spreading.
But if it hadn’t been for his eagle-eyed mum Michelle Turner, little Ethan could have died from the devastating childhood cancer.
Since Ethan’s diagnosis, Michelle has learned that the tot had been going blind in one eye for months – but neither she nor her partner Dean Warman had any idea that something was wrong.
The two main symptoms of retinoblastoma are a white glow in a child’s eye, often seen in flash photos or dim lighting, and a squint – and luckily Michelle spotted it before it was too late.
Mum-of-three Michelle, 34, from Bromsgrove, said: “It was just a typical Monday evening – I was brushing Ethan’s teeth before bed when I noticed a strange white reflection in his right eye.
“At first I thought it was just a harmless reflection but when I moved Ethan’s head from side to side the white glow didn’t go away.
“It was like a cloudy reflection, it was really unusual – but once I’d spotted it, I kept seeing it.
“If I hadn’t seen it, and his eye hadn’t been removed, it would’ve been life-threatening.
“Really, that toothbrush saved Ethan’s life.
“I’m just so grateful I’d been brushing his teeth when I was and was able to spot it.”
After Michelle and Dean, 38, decided to take Ethan to the doctors first thing in the morning, but then they started googling “white mark in pupil” – and they realised it could be a sign of something sinister.
Michelle, who is also mum to Mark, eight, and Chloe, five, said: “After a sleepless night, we called our GP first thing in the morning but they couldn’t see Ethan until later that day so we decided to take him straight to the local minor injuries clinic.
“After looking at his eye, they called Kidderminster Hospital’s eye department, and they advised us to take Ethan to the optician that day, who would refer him urgently if they had any concerns.
“As soon as the optician examined Ethan’s eye, they said they were going to refer him.
“At this point we were starting to panic but we still felt hopeful that the worst case scenario was also the least likely one.
“Ethan had already been through a tough time in his short life – he was born with a cleft lip and had surgery to repair it when he was four months old.
“Surely that was enough for one little boy?”
After doctors examined Ethan’s eye the next day, he was referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital – five days later he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma.
When he was diagnosed, Michelle started looking back through old family snaps – and realised the white glow had been in Ethan’s eye for months.
She said: “It was such a shock. Everything happened so quickly that we barely had time to take anything in.
“One minute all we’d seen was a small white glow in Ethan’s eye and the next we were being told that he had to have his eye removed.
“Ethan had a grade E tumour, which is the worst grade, and his retina was totally detached.
“His whole eye was practically a tumour and he had slowly been going blind in that eye for months.
“We had just 48 hours to come to terms with what had happened before we had to take Ethan back to hospital for surgery to remove his eye.”
Three weeks after his surgery, Ethan started chemotherapy – two days after his second birthday.
Ethan also needed blood and platelet transfusions, and Michelle and Dean are now encouraging people to donate, as they’re crucial for cancer patients during treatment.
The brave youngster is now on the mend, and he now wears a prosthetic eye.
He will still need regular check-ups to make sure the cancer doesn’t return, but Michelle and Dean are staying positive.
Michelle, a lunchtime supervisor who also works for Age UK, said: “We couldn’t believe how well he coped with everything.
“He has taken it all in his stride and has been happy and smiling all the way through.
“Ethan’s attitude is what has got me through it all – if he can manage to see the good in things, then we should too.
“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal and Ethan is really excited to go back to playgroup and see his friends.”
Michelle and production manager Dean have now joined forces with the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust to raise awareness of retinoblastoma.
Michelle added: “We really want more people to know about the signs – please take a few moments to read about them, early diagnosis could save your child’s eyes, sight and life.”
Patrick Tonks, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust, said: “Symptoms of retinoblastoma can be very subtle and children often seem perfectly well, so the warning signs are easy to miss.
“Ethan’s parents have since learned about the ‘white glow’ and wish they’d known about it sooner, so that’s why they are working with us to raise awareness.
“Retinoblastoma is very rare, with only 50 cases diagnosed a year in the UK, so it’s important that parents don’t panic but if you see anything unusual in your child’s eyes, please get them checked out urgently just to rule out anything serious.
“Retinoblastoma has one of the best cure rates of all childhood cancers but early diagnosis is vital.”
Dean and son Mark are set to take part in the Chepstow 5km Bounce Run in June, to raise money for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust – to make a donation visit justgiving.com/fundraising/deanwarman
For more information visit www.chect.org.uk