A nurse has said EastEnders saved her life after her parents complained her bedroom TV was too loud, alerting her to a brain tumour that was making her deaf.
Demi Merrick, 24, hadn’t noticed she had a problem with her hearing until her mum and dad told her they could hear her TV show from downstairs.
The then-nursing student also realised the notes she was taking in lectures were different to those of her friends as she was unknowingly mishearing her tutors.
A hearing test eventually led to a brain scan that revealed a rare, fast-growing brain tumour pressing against the nerve in her ear.
She underwent ten-hours surgery to remove the mass, but doctors were unable to save her hearing in that ear due to irreversible damage to the nerves.
‘Ian Beale ended up saving my life’
Demi, from Hillingdon, west London, has otherwise fully recovered and is now preparing to start her dream job as a school nurse.
She said: "To think this all started because I love watching Eastenders.
"Who'd have thought Ian Beale would end up saving my life?
"A tumour was the last thing I was expecting and I was in complete shock when I found out.
"I only went to get my hearing checked out originally so people would stop mentioning it - I hadn't even noticed it getting worse.
"My recovery from the surgery was long and difficult. I was constantly being sick and struggled to walk.
"I remember crying, thinking I might never get better and I'd never be able to become a nurse like I dreamed of.
"When eventually I started to get better, I couldn't wait finish my training - and now I'm on track to become a school nurse.
"As tough as it's been, getting through this has shown I'm stronger than I thought I could be - and now I want to remind others to watch out for the signs."
Friends told Demi she was taking the wrong notes in lectures
Demi's nightmare began in 2019 following a handful of passing comments from friends and family about her hearing.
Friends pointed out she was taking down the wrong notes in lectures.
Demi's parents, Kerry and Anthony Merrick, both 53, said they could hear soaps such as EastEnders and Hollyoaks blaring throughout the whole house from her TV.
She visited her GP and was sent for an MRI scan - and to her complete shock, she was diagnosed with a rare, benign brain tumour.
Doctors told her the tumour, known as vestibular schwannoma, was pressing on her hearing and balance nerves.
It had already caused her to permanently lose 80% of the hearing in her right ear.
Demi, who lives with her parents along with sisters Fay, a 30-year-old student midwife and Bianca, a 27-year-old veterinary nurse, said: "I was shocked, but I don't think it really hit me at that point."
‘It hit me how serious this was’
Demi had scans every six months to monitor the originally slow-growing tumour.
A routine scan in August 2020 showed the tumour had rapidly increased in size and needed to be surgically removed.
She explained: "I was suddenly terrified. It finally hit me how serious this was.
"Ahead of the surgery on November 10, I tried to distract myself with thoughts of finishing my degree and becoming a nurse.
"I was trying to cram in as many placement hours as possible before I took time off for the surgery. I think I did a night shift three days before I went in."
The dedicated nurse spent ten days in hospital following the surgery before being discharged to recover at home.
But she faced a gruelling three-month recovery process and was initially unable to walk due to the damage to the nerves controlling her balance.
A fat graft from her stomach to her head replaced the lost tissue where the growth was removed.
She was sick several times a day for weeks and had to make several trips back to A&E when fluids began leaking from the three-inch long C-shaped surgery scar behind her ear.
Rare condition can affect young people
Demi said: "Recovering was worse than the surgery - I just remember sitting crying thinking 'is this ever going to stop?'
"But finally, after about six weeks I started to feel better."
By January she was able to go for walks with her partner and by February, she was finally able to return to the hospital to complete her remaining nursing placements.
She secured a school nurse position to begin in Autumn this year after graduating.
Reflecting on the experience, Demi said she is glad she went to the doctors about her hearing problems - even if she only went "to shut everyone up about it".
But she reckons if nobody had pointed out the signs, it might have taken months, or even years, for her to go and get it checked out - which could have had disastrous consequences.
Demi warned: "This rare condition can affect young people - and I encourage anyone to get checked out if they think their hearing has changed."
Brave Demi said the terrifying experience has also taught her she is "stronger than she thought she was" after going through her surgery alone due to Covid-19 measures.
"This experience has shown me I can get through anything," she said.
"I'm proud of that."