A mother claims her pregnancy fed a hidden brain tumour – that made her go blind at the wheel of her car.
Emma Bullin, 40, from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, was driving on the motorway at 60mph in 2003 when her eyes ‘fuzzed over’.
An optician and nurses initially told her it was ‘pregnancy related’ and not to worry.
It was only after her daughter, Paige, was born eight weeks later, a month early, that doctors were able to run proper tests.
An enormous benign tumour was found at the base of her brain, which had been there for 18 years – but had grown in size during her pregnancy.
Although Mrs Bullin is still unable to see clearly 15 years later, she said her ordeal made her a ‘better mum’.
Emma Bullin, 40, from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, lost her eyesight before she had her baby, Paige, now 15-years-old, in 2003
Mrs Bullin, pictured with Paige, is still blind after the hormones during pregnancy contributed to the tumour, which had been there for 18 years, to grow
Mrs Bullin, who is registered blind and can see outlines from one of her eyes, believes that Paige actually saved her life by being born a month early – allowing doctors to find the tumour before it was too late.
She said: ‘If she had been born full term I would not have lived. I would not have had the surgery I needed to survive.
‘It was growing at such a rate it would have killed me before they got to it.’
Mrs Bullin was following her husband Peter, 46, in her Nissan Micra on the M1 in September 2003, when she went totally blind in her right eye, and lost nearly all her vision in her left.
When she slowed down and pulled into the hard shoulder, her husband pulled in too.
Mrs Bullin said: ‘Suddenly everything went fuzzy and I realised I couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t complete blackness – it was fuzzy.
‘It was like when you first wake up in the morning and everything is fuzzy and you can’t see, before you rub your eyes.
‘It was like a fog right in front of me. I couldn’t see anything clearly.
‘Thankfully it was an automatic car and I pulled the car over and stopped on the hard shoulder.’
She added: ‘It was absolutely terrifying. There were so many thoughts going through my head.
‘I was thinking “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my baby? Will it stay like this?”‘
Paige was born a month early, which Mrs Bullin said ‘saved her life’, as doctors were unable to do an MRI scan on Mrs Bullin until the baby was born – which could have been too late
Mrs Bullin spent months in hospital, and was sad that she was unable to spend time with her newborn, who was looked after her grandmother, until she was already lifting her head
Mrs Bullin was unaware that it was, in fact, the last time she would see clearly.
The couple drove to an optician who said he could see ‘something’ behind her eye but said it was likely due to her pregnancy.
A week later, she had a midwife appointment where she was told ‘these things happen all the time when women are pregnant’.
She said: ‘I thought it was odd. I had never heard of pregnant women going blind, but you just take their word for it.’
Paige, now 15, was in breech position and Mrs Bullin was hospitalised with pre-eclampsia, a condition that affects some pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy, and Bell’s palsy, which pregnant women are also more at risk of.
She still couldn’t see, but said medics didn’t want to do an MRI scan to investigate further, before the baby was born.
Mrs Bullin, pictured with Paige on her 4th birthday, was told by an optician and nurses that her lack of vision was a normal symptom of pregnancy
Mrs Bullin, pictured with Paige and her husband, Paul, said she believes her loss of sight made her a better mother, as she was so worried she would be seen as being a bad one
CAN PREGNANCY CAUSE A BRAIN TUMOUR TO GROW?
Meningiomas are a common type of benign brain tumor that sometimes grow dramatically in pregnant women.
Previous experts have suggested this is due to a chance in hormones.
A 2012 study, published in Neurosurgery, suggested differently.
Researchers, led by Dr. Eriks A. Lusis of Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, identified 17 women with meningiomas requiring surgery during pregnancy, or shortly afterward.
Most of the women developed related symptoms during the third trimester of pregnancy or within eight days after delivery.
The most common symptoms were changes in vision and facial paralysis or other cranial nerve palsies.
Most of the tumors were located in the skull base region and were typical, ‘low-grade’ benign tumors.
At surgery, the tumors showed an unusual ‘hypervascular’ pattern, which is an increased number of blood cells, which was not seen in other cases of meningioma in non-pregnant patients.
There was also a high rate of swelling in and around the tumor.
The findings suggested that the rapid tumor growth resulted from ‘potentially reversible hemodynamic changes’ – changes in blood flow – related to pregnancy, not due to hormones, as previously assumed.
‘That night she listened to me,’ said Mrs Bullin. ‘I looked at my bump and said “Mummy’s really poorly now and if you come now you will be absolutely fine, but mummy is quite poorly and needs you out so I can get some help”.
‘The next day at 7am I went into natural labour.’
Paige was born on October 7, 2003, a month early, weighing 4lb 13oz.
An MRI scan soon after the birth revealed Mrs Bullin had a meningioma brain tumour.
At first, she didn’t understand what this meant as she was told she had ‘lesions on the brain’.
She said: ‘We weren’t experts so I thought lesion meant cut. I was thinking to myself ‘how have I cut my brain?’
‘It was only when my mum walked past the midwifes’ office and heard them talking about the “poor girl with the brain tumour” that she realised it was me.
‘I had the tumour before, and when I was pregnant it was like “woopee” because of the oestrogen and [it] grew loads.’
Meningioma brain tumours which are benign can cause problems when they grow large enough to affect brain functions.
Over the years, there have been several reports of meningiomas – a type of benign brain tumour – enlarging or becoming symptomatic during pregnancy.
For this reason, it has sometimes been assumed that rapid tumor growth is related to changes in hormone levels during pregnancy, according to scientists.
But, one study, in 2012, concluded that it is a change in blood flow during pregnancy which causes the tumours to grow.
Mrs Bullin had a crainiotomy to give her brain room to swell before the tumour was removed.
Mrs Bullin was kept in a coma for several days, and then wasn’t able to go home for another three months, which made it impossible for her to enjoy time with her newborn.
She said: ‘My mum brought up my daughter for those first few months, as my husband had to go back to work [as a project surveyer].
‘She would bring her in and lay her on my chest and it was the time when my daughter would sleep most soundly.’
‘I had to get used to this new life – both as a mother and as a blind person.’
Contrary to earlier predictions, Ms Bullin’s sight didn’t come back.
She is registered as blind (severely sight impaired), with her vision completely gone in her right eye, and mostly gone in her left.
Mrs Bullin’s has dreams of becoming a teacher, but said she has struggled to get a job due to her lack of vision. Pictured, on her graduation from university
A month after leaving hospital, in January 2004, Ms Bullin began a degree in English Literature, which she continued despite having radiotherapy to shrink a second inoperable tumour, found in August 2004.
She completed a PGCE and is now studying for her masters, dreaming of becoming a teacher.
But Mrs Bullin has struggled to find full time work due to her disability, despite applying for hundreds of jobs over the years.
She reckons being blind has made her a ‘better mother’, and her and Paige are very close because of it.
Mrs Bullin said: ‘She saved my life because she helped find the tumour by coming early.
‘We have a really close bond because we were both getting to grips with things at the same time. I was learning to get around at the same time as she was, as a baby.
‘It was horrible of course – I have never seen her. On the positive side, I say to her that she’s the most stunning girl, and she always will be.’
‘I suppose you could say because of it I became a bit obsessive [being a mother]. I was so worried that someone would think I was going to be a bad mum.’
She added: ‘I never had a brand new baby. When she was new my mum was looking after her and by the time I got home, she was already holding her head up on her own.
‘She never once had cradle cap or nappy rash, because I was so obsessed with getting things right.
‘She was 100 per cent my priority and always will be. I know that’s the same for most mums.
‘In a way being blind made me a better mum, and better in the day to day taking care of a new born, because I was so obsessed with not being accused of getting it wrong.’
‘I never wanted to tumour to define me and I knew I wanted to be a good mum.’