Not too long ago, I posted a link to a new blog that I had found called
ONE EYED GIRL – My Life With Strabismus. It is written by Heather Fitzpatrick who has had strabismus her entire life. She is now writing about her experiences and progress with vision therapy.
Recently, I had a chance to ask Heather some questions about her vision therapy:
Dr. B: You’ve written that you first found out about vision therapy from reading about Stereo Sue’s story. Before finding out about Stereo Sue, how much did you want to address your vision problem?
Heather: I never knew that my vision was different, as I never knew any other way of seeing, so changing my vision never crossed my mind. It was the way my eyes looked that I wanted to change. The doctors told my parents that I would have no “depth perception”. I never knew what that was anyway, so I never guessed that I needed to change my vision or that I even could.
Dr. B: Do you ever recall vision therapy being brought up as an alternative or an adjunct to your eye surgeries as a child?
Heather: Never discussed. It was always, ‘Heather is such a severe case, and surgery is the only option…’ I also saw a prominent optometrist/vision specialist in New York City after reading Oliver Sacks’ article, Stereo Sue, and after many tests he said that Vision Therapy would not do anything for me. It wasn’t until I met Dr. Carl Gruning, (who was referred to me by Dr. Sue Barry), at Eye Care Associates in Fairfield, CT, that I had any idea that this might be an option for me. He agreed that I was a severe case of vertical strabismus, and that corrective surgery would probably be the action to take, but he also thought that some vision therapy might help. Well, he was right! After some months of work, things began to look different. One day the therapist put me in these one-inch thick prism glasses and suddenly the room POPPED! The walls loomed way up, the people in the room were on all these different planes of space, and objects on a table were all in their own areas. It was absolutely mind blowing! I wanted to touch everything. I felt like I had landed on a different planet and there was all this space between things.
I believe I was 80-90 PD and now I am 30-40 PD. So over time I have corrected my vertical misalignment significantly. Eventually, I got a pair of prism glasses that I could wear on walks without scaring the neighbors. They have decal prisms, and while the acuity is pretty low (there are about 20 lines going across each of the lenses), I can still see a lot of depth with them.
Dr. B: You mentioned in your blog that you compensated for your eye turn by always taking photos with a head turn. What other ways did you compensate?
Heather: I eventually learned that things seemed closer than they really were, so I would compensate by telling myself I probably had more room than I thought I had. I competed in triathlons. During cycling workouts, I am always the one too far away from the cyclist ahead of me in the pace line. Other cyclists say, “Close the gap Heather!” But not seeing the space, the person’s wheel in front of me looked much closer than it really was. In swimming workouts, I had to learn that when doing a flip turn at the end of the pool, to look at the black line at the bottom of the pool rather than trying to judge where the wall was.
When I drive a car, I gauge where I am when stopping at a light by looking at the white line on the road ahead, otherwise I end up underneath the stoplight!
Apart from these minor things, I have not had depth perception my whole life, so I think I learned how to navigate from years of never having had it, if that makes sense.
Dr. B: Do you find it difficult to stay motivated for vision therapy?
Heather: No, I truly enjoy every moment of it. Sometimes I get frustrated because I want to see results more quickly, but I have come to realize that patience is key.
Dr. B: What is the hardest thing about vision therapy for you?
Heather: A few months after I began to see in stereo, it dawned on me that I had gone my entire life seeing the world differently. This brought some low moments thinking about all the years I didn’t have this type of vision. I had no idea I saw the world as one big flat movie screen!
I began to realize that much of the trouble I had as a child in school was not because I wasn’t paying attention, (well maybe some of that!) but because I could not track things as well as the other children. My eyes were not able to keep a lot of things on a page in order, so I would become overwhelmed. It was hard to keep my visual world organized, so I preferred to talk rather than focus! I have come to get more clarity on my childhood schooling. I wasn’t stupid. I just couldn’t see like other children! Unfortunately, no one recognized this, and I was put in LD classes that did not address my visual problems.
Dr. B: I’m glad you shared that, because that is one of the most common things I hear from parents. Things like, “He is just lazy, ” or “He just doesn’t try very hard.” It is sad to hear, but the silver lining is that if their child were succeeding while dealing with his visual problems, he can achieve anything after therapy!
Heather: Oh, yea, I have heard those things, too. Not from my parents, but from teachers that just did not understand how someone’s vision could be making him or her bounce off the walls (sugar probably also helped!!) or become overly frustrated when trying to learn something new.
Dr. B: You blog a lot of what happens with your vision at home. Like most of my patients, I’m sure that your job is visually demanding. Have you noticed any if anything is better, worse, or just different at work since starting vision therapy?
Heather: In the beginning, I was very tired. Early on I had to take naps! I run a business as a recruiter (www.traberfitz.com) and part of my job requires that I work on a computer for hours at a time. Early on in VT, it became exhausting to look at the computer for longer than 3-4 hours a day, but that has improved and I have learned to take eye breaks.
Also, my eye that is normally looking down has been activated through the therapy, so now when I walk or ride my bike, I see straight ahead with one eye and the ground rushing past me with the other eye, which is a bit disconcerting. Usually, I can turn it on and off. Also, I have started to see double in some exercises in VT. I can’t seem to fuse small objects yet.
Dr. B: Have you blogged about other things before?
Heather: No. The experience of seeing a whole new way at the age of 42 moved me to write about it. I thought there must be others and I could create a network of people who may get help from my story. A few people have contacted me, and their support has been so amazing and they have been inspired to seek out VT for themselves. One person contacted me that she was told that her infant daughter would never see in stereo due to an in vitro stroke. She was devastated and worried that her daughter would be missing out on a lot in life. I told her that my life has been just fine and that never knowing what depth perception was, I never missed anything!
Dr. B: Any thing else you’d like to share?
Heather: I would just like to say that this is amazing work and has changed my life in a meaningful way. I know this may sound strange, but it has changed more than my vision. Sometimes I think that my brain has wanted to see this way for a long time and giving it that chance was almost like an awakening of sorts. It lets light into a dark part of my brain. My visual life is not dead anymore. When I wear my prism glasses, it opens up to this whole new place that seems more alive. Space is this incredible thing and so entirely magical that it is hard to describe to someone who has always seen it. Overall, I have become a more contemplative person. I took up oil painting and enjoy looking at things more…especially nature.
Dr. B: Thanks so much for sharing your time and story, Heather. I wish you all the best and much progress in vision therapy!
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area of Tampa.