Girl, 11, with brain tumour misdiagnosed 30 times

Tia Gordon
Tia Gordon's symptoms were first noticed by her mother during the Covid lockdown in March 2020 - Imogen Darby/PA

An 11-year-old girl misdiagnosed with sickness bugs and migraines was assessed by medics about 30 times before being told she had a brain tumour.

Tia Gordon, from Northampton, ended up being admitted to hospital as an emergency despite previous trips to GPs, A&E and calls to NHS 111.

Her mother, Imogen Darby, a pharmacy dispenser, sought help over a three-year period regarding Tia’s migraines and vomiting, before being told the wait for an MRI scan would be at least eight months.

It was only when Tia’s condition started to affect her balance and ability to walk that she was given an emergency scan. It showed she had a 3.5cm brain tumour.

Ms Darby said: “I was told Tia had stomach bugs and migraines. The first thing I was told, because it was the summer, she just needed to drink more water.

“After probably a year, she got diagnosed with migraines and they gave her paracetamol for that.

“She was also given another medication for that and her final diagnosis in January (this year) from paediatrics was migraine with sickness.

“Over more than three years, I took Tia to doctors, she was refused MRIs, she was refused to be seen by emergency paediatrics, I called 111, I went to A&E, she had her glasses changed four times, she was given medication and she had a consultant, but it took for her to be unable to walk for her to get the care she needed.”

Tia Gordon with her mother Imogen Darby
Ms Darby says it was only when Tia's condition started to affect her balance and ability to walk that she was given an emergency scan which revealed a 3.5cm brain tumour - Imogen Darby/PA

Ms Darby first noticed Tia’s symptoms during the Covid lockdown in March 2020 when Tia started being sick.

She was sick every few months, then monthly, then more frequently.

“I tried to get her referred to emergency paediatrics twice and that was declined both times – I was told it wasn’t an emergency,” Ms Darby said.

“She finally got referred to paediatrics and months later we had an appointment. That’s where we were at – it was desperate stakes.”

In the few months before the diagnosis, Ms Darby said she took Tia to a GP about 10 times and called NHS 111 about three times.

“I took her to A&E and I was told she had a stomach bug and told kind of just leave her to it,” she said.

However, Tia then developed a new symptom.

Ms Darby explained Tia was “holding her neck funny” after a caving trip with school.

“So we treated it, put some heat on it, you know, the normal things.”

It persisted for weeks but Ms Darby said doctors told her “she’s got a stiff neck from sleeping on it, she just needs to move her neck around”.

By that point, Ms Darby had managed to get a paediatrics appointment and explained Tia’s neck issues, after which she was referred for physiotherapy.

‘Something’s not right with Tia’

“The consultant said she would do an MRI for peace of mind but the waiting list would be months long.”

From then on, Tia was being sick most mornings and vomited every day between November 2023 to January this year.

In the few days before Tia was admitted to hospital, she also seemed wobbly.

“She was tipping her milk out in the kitchen sink,” Ms Darby said. “She was standing there and she was tipping it and it was just all tipping down the front of the sink and she didn’t notice she was doing it at all.”

The following day, Tia’s school phoned to say she was holding her neck strangely and was a bit off balance.

“I called the paediatric consultant and just said, ‘something’s not right with Tia’.”

Ms Darby was told to take Tia to Northampton General in the evening. While there, Tia was unable to walk in a straight line.

A CT scan revealed Tia’s tumour, which is a pilocytic astrocytoma – the most common type of childhood brain tumour. An ambulance was called to take her to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.

Tia was operated on over a 10-hour period and the benign tumour removed.

“It was quite a horrendous day,” Ms Darby said. “From the surgery, they managed to get 96 per cent of it out.”

Since surgery to remove the growth – which Tia calls her “astronaut tumour” due to it being an astrocytoma – she gets very tired and can still be unbalanced.

She will have an MRI scan every three months for the next five years and is undergoing physiotherapy, as well as having regular meetings with neurologists.

Meanwhile, Tia is keen to get back to her activities.

“We all call her Dr Dolittle, she absolutely loves anything to do with animals,” Ms Darby said.

“She likes dodgeball and she loves reading, absolutely loves reading. She really loves spending time with our family.”

Cameron Miller, director of external affairs and strategy at the Brain Tumour Charity, said: “We wish Tia all the best with her continuing treatment and thank Imogen for sharing her story.

“Sadly, it’s one that we often hear. For many brain tumour patients, it simply takes too long to be diagnosed – and this is one of the reasons why we’re calling for a national brain tumour strategy.”