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Teenager twice diagnosed with brain tumour who went blind finds GCSE success

PUBLISHED: 08:29 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:29 30 August 2018

Hannah Coffill and her brother and sister Ben and Holly. Pictures: Mick Howes

Hannah Coffill and her brother and sister Ben and Holly. Pictures: Mick Howes

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A teenager who was left blind after doctors discovered a second brain tumour - ten years after her first diagnosis - picked up her GSCE results last week.

Hannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill FamilyHannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill Family

Hannah Coffill, 19, from Lowestoft was first diagnosed with a germ cell brain tumour in October 2007, just before her ninth birthday

Hannah’s mother, Mandy, said: “Hannah first started to have symptoms in June 2007. She was suffering from double vision and heavy sickness and the GP couldn’t pinpoint them to anything.

“Eventually, after they got worse, we were referred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for a scan that revealed a growing tumour.

“Surgery removed most but not all of the tumour and Hannah was put on a combined chemo and radiotherapy to treat it; she was a guinea pig for this type of combination treatment back then.”

Hannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill FamilyHannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill Family

Hannah went under the knife for nine hours and subsequent surgery and treatment over six months left her with severe side effects, including the loss of her pituitary gland.

But she was determined to continue as normal a life as she possibly could, surrounded by her parents and two younger siblings, Holly and Ben.

Then, in January of 2017, Hannah began complaining of pain in her eyes.

Mrs Coffill said: “Last year while working at Vision Express and studying at college, she came home complaining of her eyes hurting. I said ‘speak to your boss, get an eye test, you work at an opticians’.

Hannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill FamilyHannah Coffill from Lowestoft who had GCSE success despite being blind from a brain tumour. Photo: Courtesy of the Coffill Family

“She phoned me the next day and said she needed to get to hospital and they sent her for an MRI after seeing a mass on her optic nerve.

“I knew by then that my worst fears were going to be confirmed. Three days later, in January 2017, we were back at Addenbrooke’s again.

“They operated two weeks later and she had lost vision in one eye and tunnel vision in the other. They suspected it would be the same type of tumour and they wanted to save her eyesight but she woke from the operation still with tunnel vision in her other eye that lasted through February and March.

“Then in April she suffered a chemo clot from the treatment and she went blind.”

Although she had already had exam success, Hannah’s illness prevented her from sitting her maths GCSE alongside her other exams last year.

Despite everything that Hannah has been through, last week, she received her GCSE success.

She said: “I was so excited to get my results. I very much hoped I’d passed but if I’d have failed, it would have given me an excuse to go back to college.

“I now want to do my higher maths and try to study in IT if I can. I’m also taking Braille lessons once a week if I’m well enough.”

At the same time her younger sister, Holly, 16, picked up six GCSEs.

The Coffill family support HeadSmart, the brain tumour symptom awareness campaign spearheaded by The Brain Tumour Charity.

The campaign has managed to reduce the average diagnosis time from over 13 to just six and a half weeks.

It continues to campaign to increase awareness among GPs and healthcare professionals and to reduce these times even further.

Mrs Coffill said: “We’re very much hands-on with Hannah’s prognosis and treatment, we have a wicked sense of humour as a family. It’s what gets us through day by day.

“We’re just so proud of what both of them have achieved in the face of everything going on around them.”

Emma Healey, HeadSmart’s marketing manager, said: “HeadSmart has two aims: to save lives and reduce long-term disability by bringing down childhood brain tumour diagnosis times.

“The campaign will help us to achieve that goal by alerting more parents, healthcare professionals, and young people to the signs and symptoms of the disease.

“We are extremely grateful for the support from Hannah and her family for helping us raise awareness. This will help so many other families going through similar situations and hopefully encourage anyone who’s concerned about potential symptoms to go to their GP with a HeadSmart card.”

HeadSmart is run as a partnership between The Brain Tumour Charity, The Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Professor David Walker, co-director of The Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre, said: “Since developing and launching HeadSmart, we have made real progress, halving the time it takes on average to diagnose a child with a brain tumour across the UK.

“The HeadSmart campaign uses ongoing evidence, justifying a new approach to healthcare professionals, young people and parents of younger children.

“With this approach, we aim to further accelerate the speed of diagnosis by helping doctors, young people and their families to work better together in selecting those who need a brain scan to diagnose or exclude a brain tumour.”

Find out more about brain tumours at www.headsmart.org.uk

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