‘I thought my glasses simply needed a good clean – but it was something much more serious’

Friday 29th January 2021

‘I thought my glasses simply needed a good clean – but it was something much more serious’

Dungannon grandmother, Gemma Killen, tells how her blurry vision revealed an underlying health issue.

Last September Gemma Killen got up as usual, ready to head off to an early church service.  Putting on her glasses she thought one of the lenses was just a little dirty, but even with her specs cleaned and pristine she still couldn’t see properly through her right eye and she felt something was wrong with her vision.

Specsavers Cookstown optometry director, Patrick Lynch, says: ‘Gemma rang our store after noticing a shadow appear in the lower part of her vision earlier that morning.

‘This was a ‘red flag’ symptom which I identified as needing be to be seen that day. Fortunately, we have allocated slots within our clinic for emergency appointments, and I scheduled a same-day appointment for Gemma.

‘On examining her eyes, I found the cause of Gemma's blurry vision to be an artery occlusion in her right eye. This is a blockage of the artery responsible for blood flow into the eye and using our OCT (optical coherence tomography) scanner, I was able to show Gemma how it appeared at the back of her eye and why the vision was affected.

‘At this stage it was important to explain that it was a serious condition and there could be systemic links to other health problems such as a potential stroke. Gemma needed to be checked out by hospital doctors within 24 hours.’

Patrick phoned Eye Emergency at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital and discussed his findings with the on-call ophthalmologist, who agreed that Gemma should be seen urgently that evening.

‘My daughter drove me up to the Royal in Belfast and I spent a number of hours undergoing several tests, scans and examinations,’ explained Gemma Killen.

‘The specialist told me that my optician had detected the problem exactly right and I had a small clot behind my eye.

‘Since the diagnosis I’ve had various checks and scans including 24-hour blood pressure monitoring and a scan at my local acute hospital, Craigavon to check the neck artery – which was all fine thank goodness. I’ve attended the Stroke Clinic and have been given all-round health advice particularly on diet and exercise to keep me on the right track for the future. I’m also on aspirin and statins.

‘I really feel it was a warning and I’m so glad I got an emergency appointment with Patrick at Specsavers in Cookstown. It’s all thanks to him that I was examined straight away by the hospital medical team.  I really appreciate what he did, spotting the condition and arranging for me to be seen at the Royal Victoria Hospital and checking up on me the next day.  It was a worrying time but I’m so glad it was resolved quickly. I’m very well at the moment and my blood pressure is good. I’m enjoying daily walks and am looking after my health and wellbeing and enjoying life as much as I can in these strange pandemic times.’

‘Gemma’s story shows the importance of looking after your eye health. Had Gemma ignored her symptoms and put off seeing an optician, it could have caused irreparable damage.’ says Patrick.

Cookstown’s Specsavers store is open 7 days a week for all eye and hearing needs during the current lockdown restrictions.

While the key message is ‘stay at home’ under NI Assembly guidance, people are allowed to leave their houses to attend medical appointments, which includes optician’s appointments and hearing tests, as these are considered essential healthcare services.

Customers are asked to request an appointment in advance by phone or online to help manage social distancing and minimise time spent in store.


The safety and wellbeing of customers and colleagues is paramount and, in line with NHS recommendations and Public Health guidance, Specsavers has numerous safety measures in place.

These include restrictions on the number of customers allowed in store at any one time, social distancing, and bank card instead of cash payments, where possible. Specsavers’ colleagues use personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the store, wear face masks and other PPE during tests, and all testing equipment and frames are thoroughly sanitised before and after each use.


Specsavers can also offer its remote services for people who are self-isolating, vulnerable or unable to leave their home.

Specsavers will continue to follow the guidance from government, health and professional bodies over the coming period.


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