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Success Stories, Traumatic Brain Injury

From Struggling Student to Adjunct Professor in Five Years?

Brain-Injured Patient Says Mind-Eye Glasses Helped Make It Happen

A pair of therapeutic – “magic?” — eyeglasses takes a struggling, brain-injured master’s degree student from a New York University classroom to recovery and the role of adjunct professor in the same department – the prestigious NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing – all within five years. Great plot for someone like independent playwright and television and screen writer James Kriz to turn into a made-for-TV movie, right?

Right, except it is not a tale of the imagination. It is Kriz’s own miraculous story of recovery, one for which he thanks the Mind-Eye Institute in Chicago’s north suburb of Northbrook and a magazine that caught his eye in a rack at a local pharmacy.

“I was flipping through the pages in this health magazine in one of the pharmacy aisles and began reading an article about Dr. Elliott,” James says.

“Dr. Elliott” is Clark Elliott, Ph.D., academician at DePaul University Chicago and author of what eventually would become a life-changing book – Ghost in My Brain — for an untold number of patients who have suffered concussions and traumatic brain injuries. In it, Dr. Elliott details his successful, two-year search for help following a severe traumatic brain injury sustained in a car crash – a search that ended in appointments with optometrist Deborah Zelinsky, OD, founder and executive director for research at the Mind-Eye Institute, and cognitive restructuring specialist Donalee Markus, PhD, of Designs for Strong Minds in Highland Park, Ill., as well as a bit of funky testing at both locations.

“I am an open-minded person. What Dr. Elliott described about his testing and care at the Mind-Eye Institute may sound nutty to some, but not to me,” James says. So, he called the Institute and made an appointment with Dr. Zelinsky.

Dr. Zelinsky and her Mind-Eye team have achieved worldwide recognition for their use of therapeutic eyeglasses, lenses, prisms, and filters, along with other optometric interventions, to vary the amount, intensity and angle of light that passes through the retina. In so doing, they have often lessened symptoms and restored comfort to patients needing to rebuild visual processing skills compromised by brain injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders. The unique optometric testing and approach Dr. Zelinsky teaches at the Mind-Eye Institute also have helped develop new processing capabilities in patients with attention and other learning deficiencies.

The customized eyeglasses “work by bending light in diverse ways across the retina, which is composed of brain tissue and functions as part of the central nervous system,” Dr. Zelinsky explains. The light triggers chemical changes that eventually result in electrical signals, which propagate through the optic nerve for further brain processing. The glasses are intended to help restore a person’s visual processing capabilities, some of which require central and peripheral eyesight to integrate with other sensory systems, such as listening.

If functioning efficiently, visual processing enables people to understand and interact appropriately to the world around them. When brain circuitry is disrupted due to injury or neurological disorders, people can become confused about their surrounding environment and oftentimes exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses to movement, sounds, and light, Dr. Zelinsky says.

“After only three weeks of wearing the prescription eyeglasses from the Mind-Eye Institute, I could tell my brain was rewiring. I gained a powerfully vivid, visual form of short- and, eventually, long-term memory. For example, while walking one day to NYU, I realized I could literally ‘see’ in detail everywhere I had been walking frame-by-frame-by-frame, like watching a movie in reverse” James recalls. “I had always been more of an auditory/verbal thinker. I never had this kind of mental gift before. It was extraordinary, and it was only the beginning.”

His excitement about this moment was understandable. After being struck on the left side of the head during a lacrosse game in 2013 – he was only age 23 at the time — James had suffered from the debilitating symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

“I developed brain fog, severe sensitivity to light, nerve pain and tingling all over my body, shooting pains at the top of my head, popping and pressure in my ears,” James recalls. “Walking also became an issue. I felt like the ground would move underneath me when I walked – much like someone who has been on a boat for a long period of time and now tries to move forward on dry land. I was easily fatigued and, when sitting or lying down, the world around me seemed to rock. I could not look at a computer screen for more than a few minutes, and nearly anything requiring brain power was difficult – and painful – to do.”

Basically, “I was disabled. I was surviving, not living. I spent most of my days in bed. Unable to work. I tried acupuncture and biofeedback to relieve my symptoms. The relief was minimal, and it didn’t fix the problem.”

NYU accepted James into the master’s degree program about a month after he suffered his head injury. James had submitted his application prior to being injured when his brain had not yet been damaged. NYU allowed James to defer entering the program for a year while he tried to recover.

When the time came to begin the 2014-15 academic year, though James had made little progress toward healing and the prospect of completing the program seemed impossible given his disabling limitations, he decided to start his Master of Fine Arts program.

“It had already been over a year since my head injury; I could not envision another 12 months of lying around. Going to NYU was better than doing nothing. I had to get my life moving again, even if it seemed impossible. I had to have faith that there would be a way,” he says.

He calls his first year in the program “unbelievably difficult. It’s a God-given miracle I managed to get through it.” Even more disconcerting to him were the warnings of the neurologists who had tested and treated him, telling James that “the two-year anniversary of my head injury would pretty much be the cutoff date for any further improvement. I was told I would not likely get much better after that.”

So, when James’s two-year anniversary – May 10, 2015 – did arrive, “part of me felt I was beyond hope of ever returning to normal. Though I did hold out faith that somehow, someway things could get better. I didn’t stop fighting.”

Then came the magazine, the call to the Mind-Eye Institute, and a first-time appointment with Dr. Zelinsky in the summer of 2015.

As of today (August 2021), a number of eyeglass prescriptions later, James says he has experienced a dramatic recovery, regaining his life, his mind now empowered by what he calls “incredible gifts” he never had prior to the injury.

“I now have a photographic memory – something I never had before,” he says. “My brain also has a capacity to visually analyze and problem solve in a way it never could. I can work seemingly endlessly. My sensitivity to light is gone. I have regained my life.”

He adds, “I cannot believe how far the Mind-Eye lenses have taken me although it is important to note that my recovery did take time. Each set of lenses brought me forward, year after year. I had to be patient. It didn’t happen all at once.”

But James’s turnaround is not surprising to Dr. Zelinsky, who says that the Institute’s highly individualized therapeutic “brain” glasses are intended to improve retinal processing, which is part of visual processing — not to sharpen a person’s eyesight to 20/20.

“Doctors were telling me there was no hope. I could barely get through a day, let alone my master’s degree program,” James relates. “Yet, five years later, here I am – excelling as an independent screenwriter, ghost writer, and novelist and serving as adjunct professor in the very department where I once struggled to survive as a student. The Mind-Eye Institute has absolutely given me my life back.”