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Routine eye exam credited for detecting large brain tumor in Horace teen

Avery Moxness
Avery Moxness(Avery Moxness)
Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 5:17 PM CDT
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HORACE, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Due to COVID-19, one Fargo eye doctor bought a new piece of equipment to make eye exams quicker and easier, eliminating the need for patients to have their eyes dilated and crowd in the waiting room. The instrument is now being credited in helping save a Sheyenne High School senior’s life for detecting a brain tumor that’s likely been growing for the last five years.

Avery Moxness has been suffering bad migraines since she was about five-years-old, but says a few years ago things started getting unbearable.

“I couldn’t sleep them off, I couldn’t just get better the next day. I’d get more symptoms like ear pain or muscle pain,” Avery said.

Despite multiple neurology appointments, prescriptions and various recommended remedies like ‘more salt, more iron, more exercise, Gatorade, more rest,’ nothing has helped Avery’s pain.

She says when she walked in to Dr. Melissa McCulley’s Optometry office last month, she wasn’t looking for any answers. In fact, it was the two’s first time meeting and was only supposed to be a routine eye exam.

“She took a picture of the back of my eye and said my optic nerve was swollen,” Avery explained

“I knew things did not look good when we see all of this swelling around the optic nerve. It’s so swollen that it’s even obscuring some of the blood vessels leaving the optic nerve," Dr. Melissa McCulley said. "On a scale from one to ten for how severe this is, I would say it’s a 9 or a 10.”

Dr. McCulley sent Avery to a local emergency room for an MRI, which found a large tumor in the parietal region of her brain.

“We would have gone on, who knows how long until we figured out what this was," Erin Moxness, Avery’s mom said.

Two days later, doctors removed as much of the tumor as they could and sent it off for testing at Mayo Clinic, but the Moxness' have yet to hear back.

“It’s a long wait. Mayo Clinic is backed up due to COVID. Not a lot of people sought testing at the beginning of COVID, and now everybody’s going at once,” Erin explained.

“It is scary thinking, ‘Oh what if I have to go through the whole cancer process later?’ and I always feel like I don’t have time for that,” Avery said.

The discovery of Avery’s tumor comes at the same time the high school senior is trying to decide on where she will attend college next year. Avery says she’s planning on studying Theater.

““I feel like we can’t take that next step until we actually get that phone call," Erin said. "Do these colleges have the resources and medical care near them for her as an out of state resident?”

The Moxness' say although in limbo, they’re keeping their thoughts positive, and hope Avery’s story emphasizes the importance of getting yearly eye exams, even during COVID-19.

“In almost all of my cases of patients with headaches, we do not find things like this, but that one in a million makes it so worth anybody who has symptoms of headaches just to rule out things with an eye exam,” Dr. McCulley said.

McCulley says even if your eye doctor doesn’t have the same instrument as her office, your eye doctor will still be able to determine at your annual exam if your optic nerve is swollen, or any other concerns.

If you’d like to help the Moxness family, click here. You can also keep up with Avery’s journey on her CaringBridge.

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