Aberdeen doctor’s diagnosis by TV saves nun’s life

Sister Aelred should have a longer life thanks to surgery. Picture: South West News Service
Sister Aelred should have a longer life thanks to surgery. Picture: South West News Service
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A NUN has undergone life- saving surgery after a Scottish doctor diagnosed her rare genetic condition while watching her on television.

Professor John Bevan of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was at home when Sister Aelred, of the Arundel Convent in West Sussex, appeared in an interview.

The 70-year-old was on BBC1’s The One Show to talk about life as a nun when Prof Bevan noticed she was speaking as though her tongue was too big for her mouth.

The senior consultant endocrinologist had a hunch that the Poor Clare nun was suffering from acromegaly, a condition that makes the body produce too much growth hormone and can shorten life by up to ten years.

Prof Bevan said: “I noticed that she had thickening of the soft tissue of her face – the lips, the nose, the forehead – all of which are fairly classical external signs of this condition.”

After the programme, which was aired in 2010, Prof Bevan got in touch with the producer and was passed Sister Aelred’s contact details.

The nun was checked over on Prof Bevan’s advice and his diagnosis proved correct. Acromegaly mostly affects adults in middle age and if unnoticed can result in severe disfigurement, complicating conditions, and premature death.

Sister Aelred has since had surgery on her pituitary gland to remove a benign tumour that was causing the condition.

Prof Bevan said: “Acromegaly often happens very slowly and often happens in the second half of life. It is very difficult for the individual themselves to pick up. In every one million of the population there will probably be three or four new cases of acromegaly diagnosed, so it is really very rare.”

The doctor has now met Sister Aelred with his wife after being invited to Arundel Convent.

Sister Aelred said: “I’m very thankful for Professor Bevan’s help. When I met him, I told him that I would be forever in his debt for taking the time to diagnose me by just watching me on television.

“He actually e-mailed the producer of The One Show that very night he saw me.

“At first, I didn’t believe him, but when I looked up the symptoms, I realised he was right.

“I didn’t feel ill at the time and would have gone on without ever being concerned about the condition until it was too late.

“Acromegaly has a number of serious consequences. It could have locked my jaw shut so I couldn’t eat, it could have damaged my internal organs and it can make you more susceptible to diabetes and cancer. I underwent surgery in April 2011, but it wasn’t completely successful, so I’ve also had radiotherapy.

“It takes a few years to work, but so far it seems to be working and within a few years I’ll hopefully be OK again.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian added: “Prof Bevan is very modest about what he has done for Sister Aelred, but he has given her a much longer life.”

For more information on acromegaly, visit www.pituitary.org.uk.