Work experience student helps save man's eyesight

A RIPON Grammar School pupil on work experience has been praised for the role he played in helping save a man’s eyesight.

Alexander Pickering, 15, was on a placement at Specsavers in Ripon when holidaymaker John Morgan, who was suffering from blurred vision, called in.

The teenager ran the diagnostic scan which alerted the optician to something unusual in the retina and Mr Morgan was urgently referred to Harrogate Hospital, which quickly revealed a dangerous blockage in the main retinal vein, a condition which can lead to a permanent loss of vision.

“Thankfully, because I was diagnosed so early, there is a chance I can save my eye and maintain some vision,” said Mr Morgan.

Alexander, who has been trained to use the 3D optical diagnostic scanner, which can detect sight threatening eye conditions early, says: ‘I was really pleased that the pre-test I did picked up Mr Morgan’s eye condition. Thankfully, the optician was able to confirm the diagnosis and contacted the hospital to make an immediate appointment for him. If it had not been picked up, he could have gone blind.’

The Year 10 student, who will be taking his GCSEs next year and is aiming for a career in healthcare, said: "I was thrilled to play a small part in a much bigger team of people at Specsavers, in helping to save someone's sight. I never expected to learn so much and achieve something so worthwhile during my work experience.”

Mr Morgan, from Salford, who is keen to raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations following his shock diagnosis, will now need an injection in his eye every month for the next year

“I may not fully get all of my vision back, however if undiagnosed, I could have completely gone blind in that eye,” he said.

He praised the whole Specsavers team for their speedy reaction and support: “Alexander, who was on a work placement and conducted the pre-test, initially scanned my eye and flagged an issue with optician Caroline Sullivan immediately.

“The team at Ripon Specsavers were fantastic and got me in for an appointment straight away and even organised my hospital appointment. My experience shows how a routine eye test can help diagnose other worrying health issues and I’d urge everyone to book in an eye exam, no matter how small they feel the problem may be,” said John.

He added: "Alexander was very polite and confident in what he was doing. I am sure he will make a success of whatever career he chooses. He is a credit to his parents and his school."

Alexander, who has been offered part-time work as a customer services assistant at the store in addition to his work experience placement, is being trained in customer service as well as in the use of scanning equipment.

“The experience has helped improve my communication skills and self-confidence and also encouraged me to explore various career options,” he said.

Annette Duffy, director at Specsavers, Ripon, explained how the store’s optical coherence tomography (OCT) machines combined with staff expertise enabled such a speedy diagnosis: “We now use OCT machines in many of our stores, which use light to take more than 1,000 images of the back of the eye and optic nerve. These machines can locate issues before they become a major issue and help detect diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and even tumours.

“Many people may feel their eyesight is of a high standard, however we are urging people to recognise how our advanced technology and routine eye exams can help detect other health issues.”

She added: “We encourage work placements as the best opportunity to explore the benefits of pursuing a career in this sector. As a healthcare provider it is important to have a flow of young people who may be interested in pursuing a career as either an optometrist or audiologist.

“By engaging with local schools such as Ripon Grammar School, we are able to offer skills development in young people from the age of 14 years through on-site learning in a safe environment."

Miss Duffy added that working only two hours a week after school on a Friday had given Alexander the soft skills and experience needed to deal confidently with patients, without interfering with his studies: “With the summer holidays and no rugby at weekends, Alexander will be given the opportunity to increase his hours and gain further experience.”

*Mr Morgan, above, pictured with his wife Denise

Read other RGS student work experience stories here