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Mom detects son’s retinoblastoma using just her phone camera

Amazing Mom Detects Son’s Retinoblastoma Using Phone Camera

Mom Identifies Son’s Rare Cancer Using Phone Camera

By Tracy Swartz

Published on Feb. 28, 2024, 9:23 p.m. ET


A UK mom’s quick thinking and the use of her smartphone’s camera flash led to the early detection of her infant son’s rare eye cancer. Sarah Hedges, a 40-year-old support worker from Gillingham, Kent, noticed a “white glow” in her 3-month-old son Thomas’ eye while cooking dinner one evening. Concerned, she used her phone’s flash to investigate further and was able to catch the glow again. This prompted her to seek medical attention, confirming her suspicion and allowing early medical intervention. This extraordinary story shows the potential power of technology in healthcare.


Sarah Hedges was cooking dinner in November 2022 when she saw a “white glow” in her 3-month-old son Thomas’ eye. The glow reflected the light “like a cat’s eye,” and she decided to use her phone’s flash to see if she could capture it again. After trying different light scenarios the next day, she saw the glow again, persisting her concerns. Hedges turned to Google to find possible causes, and her results suggested cancer. Though the doctor initially didn’t seem worried, Hedges insisted on further examination.

Thomas was eventually diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of eye cancer that primarily affects babies and young children. The doctor relayed the unfortunate news to Hedges, who was apprehensive after being summoned to the doctor’s room. Hedges recalled the anxiety-filled moment, saying, “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? Before he said anything I asked, ‘Is it cancer?’ and he said, ‘I’m sorry, it’s not good news.'” The diagnosis marked the beginning of Thomas’ intensive treatment journey.

Treatment and Recovery

Following the diagnosis, Thomas was referred to the Royal London Hospital, where he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy starting in November 2022. Despite facing the challenges of treatment and the battle against sepsis, a condition that nearly claimed Thomas’ life, he completed his final chemotherapy round on April 6, 2023, and celebrated his recovery by ringing the bell on May 10, 2023. Sarah Hedges describes Thomas as a “cheeky little boy” who enjoys playful interaction with his older brother and is currently progressing well.

Raising Awareness for Early Detection

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) outlines some common signs of retinoblastoma, including a white glow and a change in the appearance of the eye. However, these symptoms can be quite subtle and easily overlooked. In Thomas’ case, the white glow was the key indicator noticed by his vigilant mother. CHECT’s chief executive, Richard Ashton, expressed gratitude that Thomas’ symptoms were identified early, enabling necessary treatment. Ashton highlighted that the difficulty in diagnosis, coupled with the aggressive nature of the cancer, often leads to the removal of the affected eye to prevent further complications.


Sarah Hedges’ keen observation and resourcefulness in using her phone’s camera flash provided a crucial breakthrough in the early detection of her son Thomas’ retinoblastoma, a rare and aggressive eye cancer. Thomas’ successful battle against the disease showcases the potential of technological tools and the importance of maintaining awareness about the early signs of various health conditions. Hedges’ story serves as a reminder for parents everywhere to remain vigilant and trust their instincts, especially when it concerns the well-being of their children.


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