I went blind overnight at the age of 29 – it turned out to be leukaemia that had turned my blood to 'porridge'

A POLICE officer lost his eyesight overnight after leukaemia turned his blood to “porridge”.

George Attwood had been working a night shift when his vision became blurry.

The officer was unable to read number plates or see what was on his laptop screen – no matter how close he was.

The 29-year-old contacted his GP in Dorset who told him he should go and see an optician for an eye test.

The “fit and active” officer who serves with Wiltshire Police then booked an appointment at Specsavers.

He was unable to read just one letter from the top line of the optician’s chart.

George was taken to Bournemouth Hospital and after undergoing blood tests, it emerged that George had suffered bleeds at the back of his eyes.

It was then that George was given the news that he was suffering from leukaemia.

Doctors explained to George that the bleed had caused a high blood count that made his blood thick and “porridge-like”.

Chances are the bleeds at the back of my eyes were caused by my blood, which they said was a bit like porridge and was so thick because of all the white blood cells

Within hours of being admitted to, George started a gruelling 10-day cycle of chemotherapy.

George is now set for three more rounds of treatment and has relived the horror of his ordeal.

George, from Verwood, Dorset, said: "After the optician told me I'd had a bleed at the back of my eyes I was quite tearful.

"I got back into the car and I broke down and told my girlfriend what they said.

"I remember thinking 'if I can't see, what can I do? Your eyes are so important, I can't drive or do my job'.

"When my GP contacted me asking to go in for some blood tests I assumed it was a routine check-up, but never in a million years did I consider it to be leukaemia.”

He said that at first the news didn’t sink in and added that he was in “total disbelief”.

What is Leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which effects cells in bone marrow and attacks the immune system.

The disease is often classified as what type of cell is affected (myeloid or lymphatic) and how it progresses (acute or chronic).

Acute leukaemia is when it is progressing aggressively and requires immediate attention.

The risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) increases with age, with the cancer being most common in adults over 65.

Typically the symptoms of AML can become increasingly more severe over time.

According to the NHS website, the signs to look out for include:

  • Looking pale or "washed out"
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Breathlessness
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual and frequent bruising or bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • Losing weight without trying to

Speak to a GP if you or your child have possible symptoms.

“I didn't believe that this would happen to me.

"I've never been sick before, I've never had to go to hospital for anything.

"It wasn't until the Thursday when I woke up in hospital and the chemotherapy started that it really sank in, I was in a real state of shock."

George, who was previously a ministry of defence police officer, said he started to feel unwell at the start of July.

He said he suffered from a sore throat and had a coronavirus test to check he hadn’t contracted the virus.

It came back negative and he was given penicillin, but when the course finished his sore throat came back and he started to suffer from sweating.

At this time he put it down to the hot weather.

On July 29 George started having issues with his sight and believed he had contracted the coronavirus – remembering Dominic Cumming’s notorious lockdown trip to Barnard Castle being sight-related.

During his eye test days later on July 31, opticians said he had a bleed behind the eyes.

On August 5, doctors called him and told him he had leukaemia.

George said: "It all started as a sore throat, which made it painful to eat or swallow, then I began to experience breathlessness.

"When I was at work and had to walk up a flight of stairs I would be out of breath at the top, which had never happened before.

"I brushed the breathlessness and sweating I was experiencing off, and just put it down to the hot weather, it was a series of unfortunate events.

"That week I did my annual fitness test for the police and I almost collapsed but still powered on. I've aced all of those in the past and pretty much had 20/20 vision.”

George added that he was worried it was Covid, but said that being a front line police officer made him feel as though it was “inevitable” that he would catch it.

"I just hoped I wouldn't catch it horrifically and that youth and fitness was on my side.

"I had two night shifts to work and on the Wednesday [July 29] I lost my vision, it went all blurry, to the point where I couldn't read a number plate while stood next to it let alone 20 metres away.

"The optician said I'd suffered bleeds to the back of the eyes, in the centre field, which was why my vision was all blurry.

"I assumed it was to do with Covid as I'd seen in the papers about Dominic Cummings saying he'd driven to a castle because of eye issues.

"The optician referred me for an urgent referral to the hospital, and because of that my GP did some blood tests.

"As my girlfriend and I were cooking dinner I got a call from the GP saying 'sorry I'm the bearer of bad news, it looks like you've got leukaemia and you need to go to hospital'.

"The doctors at Bournemouth Hospital were amazing, they sat me down and explained what leukaemia was and why I was feeling the way I was."

It was at the hospital that doctors told George that the breathlessness had been caused by low blood levels.

George added: "A normal person should have a red blood count of about 120, mine was about 55.

"They then said a normal person should have a white blood count of about 10-20 and mine was 550.

"Chances are the bleeds at the back of my eyes were caused by my blood, which they said was a bit like porridge and was so thick because of all the white blood cells."

George said his sight is slowly improving but added that the chemo has taken a toll on his body.

George said: "At the end of the chemo cycle, I felt very tired but generally felt better.

"I could only walk short distances before I had to sit down and I couldn't stand for a full shower was feeling very tired.

"Going from such a fit and active role to that was a real shock to the system.
"In my old job in the MOD police we were allowed to work out on shift and my girlfriend and I would go for long walks.

"We loved going up Snowdon and were planning to go up Ben Nevis this year as we're really into long-distance walking and hiking.

"I did the Salisbury half marathon in 2018, I've always been a person who can keep going mind over matter.

"Doing that and now suddenly having your body physically shutting down rather than mentally is a big change.”

He added that specialists say his eyesight will take months to get better.

"I'm able to watch TV but I'm unable to read books or do puzzle books.

"There's no history of cancer or leukaemia in my family, doctors still don't understand why certain people get it.

"They said the only way to describe it was as bad luck, my family and girlfriend were absolutely distraught.

"I have an amazing support network around me, which is a big help."

George is now keen to raise funds for the ward he has been treated on and praised the staff at Bournemouth Hospital.

George said: "The hospital staff have been absolutely phenomenal, from day one they've put me at ease.

"I really want to give back to the ward and the staff because they've been absolutely amazing.

"I noticed some of the fitness equipment was outdated and they have a box full of arts and crafts to give people on the ward.

"I started using some of the stuff and I thought it was a great idea.

"I set up the GoFundMe page for the ward so I could focus on it between treatments and also because I was also getting loads of fundraising offers from people.

"As a police officer you always put yourself out there first, you're there on the front line trying to save people and be there for them. I think people like to give back to people that have done the same.

"I wanted to share my story to inspire people and remind everyone that during these tough times we still need to be focused and thankful for people."

Specsavers' clinical services director Giles Edmonds said: "There are several changes we may notice in our vision which could be a sign of a wider health condition, as demonstrated by George's story. If you are experiencing any sudden eye health or vision changes, it's imperative you book an eye appointment so an optician can conduct a thorough examination.

"Your optician will ask if you are experiencing any concerns. Diagnostic testing will then look at the overall health of the eye to reveal any changes or concerns that are not visible to the naked eye.

"With George, swelling in the optic nerves and changes to the appearance of blood vessels behind the eye indicated something serious so he was referred to his local hospital to ensure he was seen quickly and by the right consultant. This is a common unknown fact that an optician can ensure a customer is seen by the right consultant at a hospital when an anomaly is identified.

"At a time when GPs and the NHS are under immense pressure, our opticians remain open to care for urgent cases like George's and to help people avoid busy A&E departments."

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