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Baby Thomas from Medway diagnosed with eye cancer after mum used mobile phone camera to detect glow in his eye

By Ben Barry

A mum detected her son's rare eye cancer using the flash on her mobile phone camera.

Sarah Hedges, 40, from Gillingham, was cooking shepherd's pie for dinner when she looked across at three-month-old son Thomas and saw a "white glow" in his eye.

Sarah Hedges and her son Thomas today
Sarah Hedges and her son Thomas today

The mum-of-four said it was reflecting the light "like a cat's eye" and she took photos with the flash turned on using her mobile phone to see if she could spot it again.

She Googled what she saw and reports said he might have cancer, so she showed the photos to her GP.

Tests confirmed Mrs Hedges’ suspicions and Thomas was diagnosed with retinoblastoma - a rare and aggressive form of eye cancer that affects babies and young children.

He had chemotherapy and is now stable.

Thomas with his dad Marc, 45, and sister Beth, 21
Thomas with his dad Marc, 45, and sister Beth, 21

Mrs Hedges, a support worker, said: "I thought my son was going to die.

"I thought I was going to lose him. When you hear the word cancer you automatically think the worst - this can be life-threatening.

"I just wanted to be swallowed up and someone to tell me that it was a bad dream and that I would wake up in a minute.

"I just sobbed, but he just kept talking and holding my hand trying to comfort me."

Mrs Hedges was cooking dinner for her three other children, Beth, 21, Dillan, 16, and Lucas, eight, in November 2022 when she first noticed the glow.

She said: "I noticed his eye looked like a cat's eye.”

Thomas during his chemotherapy treatment
Thomas during his chemotherapy treatment

"I couldn't see it again so then I wondered whether it was just the lighting.

"It was playing on my mind, so the next day I moved Thomas around in different rooms near lighting and eventually, I saw it again.”

Thomas was diagnosed at Medway Maritime Hospital.

Mrs Hedges said: "The doctor called us back into his room to discuss the results, I was in the bathroom.

"When I came out, he was waiting for me, I knew then it wasn't good news, no doctor waits for someone outside the toilet do they?”

Baby Thomas pictured with his Dad in hospital while waiting for treatment to his eye cancer
Baby Thomas pictured with his Dad in hospital while waiting for treatment to his eye cancer

Thomas was referred to the Royal London Hospital for treatment, where he had six rounds of chemotherapy, starting in November 2022.

And after battling sepsis, he finished his final round of chemotherapy on April 6, 2023 and rang the end-of-treatment bell on May 10, 2023.

His mother described him as a "cheeky little boy".

She said: “Thomas is a very happy little boy. He loves playing with his older brother in rough and tumble on the floor."

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) says that 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.

Thomas with his brother Dillan, 16
Thomas with his brother Dillan, 16

Richard Ashton, chief executive, said: “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.”

Mr Ashton said: “We are grateful that in Thomas’ case, his symptoms were recognised quickly so that he could receive treatment.”

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