Todd Smith says, “I tell the apple and vineyard growers associated with my company that falls are just part of our business. We are all used to getting hurt, rubbing dirt, and going on. But sometimes you get to the point where you just can’t go on. That’s where I was in January of 2020.”
In fact, by then, this 55-year-old owner of the Finger Lakes Trellis Orchard & Vineyard Supply Depot in Upstate New York had arrived at what he calls “my wit’s end — about the lowest point in my career physically and mentally.”
That is why he turned to the Mind-Eye Institute in the north Chicago suburb of Northbrook and its founder, Deborah Zelinsky OD, for help. Today, he is calling Dr. Zelinsky “my personal miracle. She saved my life.
“I was about ready to give up,” says Todd, who had sustained a series of head injuries, including three concussions in the past year-and-a-half. “I was in constant pain from my back and neck. I could not sit or stand at a computer. I could not hear in a crowd. I had comprehension issues and problems reading. I had to keep my finger down on a page because I kept losing my place. My speech deteriorated. It was almost as if I were speaking backwards. And, when someone was talking to me, I would miss the first part of the sentence. I could not keep up with conversations.”
To make matters worse, Todd was experiencing double vision, which affected his ability to confidently operate heavy machinery out in the growing fields or drive a vehicle, including his beloved Harley motorcycle. He also blames much of his pain on posture.
“My right shoulder and rib cage were turning in and my neck jutting out as if my body was trying to compensate for my sight difficulties,” he says. “I could not hold my head up straight no matter what I did. And my back always thought I was standing at an angle – part of the reason, I guess, I was always in so much pain.”
Todd first learned about the work of the Mind-Eye Institute from a local, New York physical therapist who was treating him. Todd’s business manager, concerned about her boss’ deterioration, took the next step, contacting Mind-Eye to make the appointment on Todd’s behalf.
“Yes, I was skeptical about the whole [mind-eye] thing at first. Sounded a lot like ‘black magic.’ But I kept watching the patient testimonials on the Mind-Eye web site and learning more about how these patients were helped. So, I decided to give it a shot,” Todd says.
The Mind-Eye Institute is recognized worldwide for its assessment of “visual processing” – namely, brain care rather than eye care. The term “visual processing” refers to the brain’s almost-instantaneous ability (partially beneath a conscious level of awareness) to take in external sensory signals (from eyesight, hearing, smell, taste and touch), meld them with a person’s internal sensory signals and then synthesize – process — the information, allowing a person to react and respond to his or her environment.
“When intact, visual processing enables people to understand and interact appropriately with the world around them. If brain circuitry is out of sync because it has been disrupted by trauma or disease or is underdeveloped, people can become confused about their surrounding environment and exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses. If eyes and ears are not in sync, people have to continuously monitor their shifting attention, and that effort becomes exhausting,” says Dr. Zelinsky, whose studies of retinal stimulation have been described in publications and courses throughout the world.
Dr. Zelinsky is also executive director of research at the Mind-Eye Institute.
“During my first visit to Mind-Eye, Dr. Zelinsky does something goofy with the glasses I am wearing and, boom, I instantaneously feel better,” Todd recalls.
That “something goofy” was the placement of small strips of tape at strategic points on Todd’s eyeglass lenses in order to vary the way in which light was passing through his retinas. The tape was intended as temporary relief until Todd could receive his prescribed “brain” glasses – highly individualized and precise lens technology that the Mind-Eye Institute calls “Brainwear™.”
“The retina is composed of brain tissue and is part of the body’s central nervous system, Dr. Zelinsky says. “Light from the environment is converted into electrical signals, and the retina routes these signals through multiple brain pathways, many of which are not part of eyesight. By bending the light on the retina in different ways, we can help rebuild (or, more often, circumvent) damaged or disrupted brain pathways, thereby enhancing a patient’s spatial awareness, body posture, perception, and selective attention to sound.”
“Up until that first visit in February of this year (2020), I could not drive a vehicle long distances and, when I did drive, I often had to carry an ice pack and wear a neck brace,” he says. “But, after leaving Dr. Zelinsky’s office on a Saturday evening, I felt so good I drove home all night – nearly 700 miles.”
Todd’s story actually begins at age 7 when he was struck by a car and suffered a severe concussion. Whether it was the post-concussive symptoms, an attention-deficit disorder, or combination of both, “I was always in a special education group for reading,” Todd says.
A fall in 2011 left him with ever-worsening symptoms that six years later required surgical fusion of discs in his neck and back. Todd later experienced several other what he calls “pile-drivers,” including a slip from a trailer.
Dr. Zelinsky explains the science.
“Eyesight has many systems. Two common ones are identification and navigation. Identification comes from the clearness – 20/20 — of a person’s central eyesight when looking at a non-moving object. This kind of conscious targeting is what gets evaluated in a conventional eye examination. Navigation, however, is based on peripheral eyesight, allowing us to judge background and moving targets in order to assess where objects are located as we move around. It is this navigational system (and its relationship with the identification system) that is most often disrupted by concussion or brain injury,” Dr. Zelinsky explains. Research shows that after even mild concussions, the electrical activity of peripheral retinal signals is changed.
With Brainwear™ technology, the Mind-Eye team can modulate the way light strikes the peripheral and non-image-forming pathways of the retina in order to make patients more comfortable in navigating their environment.
“By synchronizing sensory (eye and ear) inputs, stress chemicals produced by the body are reduced, posture can shift– if the glasses bend the light sideways on the retina, for example, they can cause a patient to move a titled head and neck into a straighter position — and lessen some brain-injury symptoms, including headaches, light and sound sensitivity, balance, sleep problems, and issues with memory, concentration, focus, organization, and decision-making,” Dr. Zelinsky says.
The current COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellation of Todd’s second Mind-Eye visit, but, when the appointment was rescheduled for May of 2020, Todd was determined to get to Chicago.
“I left work about 9:30 p.m. and, from a point somewhere between Syracuse and Rochester, New York, drove all the way, except for stopping in Ohio to sleep for a couple of hours. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to Mind-Eye,” Todd says.
He calls the neurosurgeon, chiropractor, pain management physician, optometrist, and other professionals he has seen through the standard health care system “excellent,” but adds that each is limited within the boundaries of their specialties.
“The surgeon cuts, the chiropractor adjusts, and the pain management guy injects and ablates nerves. But Dr. Zelinsky is the complete package. Working with her knowledge and science, she is the one who ties it all together. She can figure out what you need,” says Todd, who now calls himself one of the Mind-Eye Institute’s “disciples, because I am telling everyone about it.
“My pain and stress are reduced. My head and neck have straightened, and my rib cage and shoulder are returning to more normal positions. I am able to read without losing my place, converse, and work at a computer,” Todd says.
“Thanks to Dr. Zelinsky, I’m back. And I intend to ride this body out all the way.”