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Success Stories, Traumatic Brain Injury

Internet Signal on Beach Puts Him on Road to Recovery

Mind-Eye Institute Helps Return Brain-Injured Patient to Person He was

“She is still in business,” Michael Warnecke’s wife, Alycia, yelled excitedly from the only point on the beach at Priest Lake, Idaho, where one could capture an Internet signal. The couple were vacationing at the time; the year was 2017.

The “she” to whom Alycia referred was Deborah Zelinsky, OD, founder of the Mind-Eye Institute, whose work involving the retina’s impact on brain function is featured in a book the couple had just read — The Ghost in My Brain. The excitement was due to Alycia’s belief that her husband might finally find relief from symptoms of brain injury.

“What a great moment that was,” Michael recalls. “For the first time in six years, we had hope.”

In Ghost in My Brain, author Clark Elliott PhD, a DePaul University Chicago academician and a specialist in applied artificial intelligence, details his eight years of struggles following a traumatic brain injury caused by a car crash and his search for practitioners who could help him return to his old self. Published in 2015, the book describes what he calls the “magic” work of Dr. Zelinsky and the Mind-Eye Institute (, located in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

In fact, Dr. Zelinsky is an internationally recognized scientist. For the past 30 years, she has devoted her career to neuro-optometric rehabilitation and development of advanced methods for assessing brain function, with emphasis on the often-untested linkage between eye and ears. Her patented research in novel uses of retinal stimulation has been described in publications and courses worldwide.

“We called the Mind-Eye Institute right away, made an appointment, and, within a few weeks, were flying to Chicago,” says Michael, a Rockford, Washington resident, who was now beginning what he hoped would be a journey to recovery.

The Mind-Eye Institute did not disappoint.

When he put on his first pair of therapeutic “brain” glasses prescribed by Mind-Eye following comprehensive evaluation and testing, Michael says the effects were almost immediate. “My eyes, my brain just relaxed. I experienced a calmness I had not felt in years.”

At least, not since 2011. That’s when Michael fell from a 15-foot ladder in his home mechanics shops, striking his head on the concrete floor so hard that the eyeglasses he was wearing at the time flew off his face and landed about 30 feet away.

“I realized right away I messed up my brain,” says Michael who understands the basics of a concussion protocol, having once been a boys’ baseball and football coach for park leagues and elementary and middle schools.

“My wife was at work at the time of the accident, but my father-in-law came over to watch me and make sure I stayed awake. I knew I had hit my head hard, but I had not lost consciousness, there was no blood, and I was totally coherent, although a bit slow in talking. I really thought I had dodged a bullet,” Michael recalls.

In reality, he had only delayed the bullet.

Two days after the fall, “I am driving to a town in Idaho 25 minutes from my home – a town that I know frontwards and backwards – and suddenly I don’t know where I am. I call my wife, and she gives me directions to the store where I want to go. Once I find it, I recognize it, and things start making sense again.”

But not enough sense.

On his way to Spokane, Washington, following the stop at the store, Michael still did not feel right, and his memory lapse worried him. He drove to the emergency room of a Spokane-area hospital where doctors diagnosed him as showing signs of a traumatic brain injury. They discharged him with anti-nausea medication.

Upon arriving home, “it hit. Everything started spinning. I became violently ill – more nauseous than I had ever been in my life. I was literally falling over, crawling on my hands and knees, finally just lying on the bathroom floor. I couldn’t get up,” Michael recounts.

The severe vertigo and nausea lasted only a few hours. However, the experience marked the beginning of a series of symptoms that would gradually impact the quality of Michael’s life and the life of his family, even prompting his wife at one point to state, “You are not the man I married.”

“How many times during this ordeal was I wishing I had that guy back,” Michael says.

“I was continually on edge, had difficulty reading and comprehending – when I would read, my eyes would hurt or I would fall asleep in minutes — and I was overly sensitive to light and sound,” Michael says. “I did not realize it at the time, but sound made me so anxious that, when my three sons were playing – just boys being boys, I would have to leave the room. I could not enjoy time with my family.”

Sometimes, when talking to his team at work, Michael, a transportation specialist responsible for safely transporting 13,000 students daily, would be in mid-sentence and go blank – silence. “I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get it out of my mouth,” he says

Michael sought help from the traditional health care system, “but doctors were telling me they could do nothing to help, that I would simply have to work through it.” He even tried complementary medicine, with minimum success.

“My wife and I were just grasping at whatever we could find as a possible solution.”

Help came in the form of a customer at the bank where Alycia Warnecke works. The customer told her about the Dr. Elliott book. The Warnecke’s read it, and Michael’s life began to change.

Michael recalls his first appointment at the Mind-Eye Institute. “Dr. Zelinsky was so patient, so thorough, explaining everything to us. And, after all the testing was done, Dr. Zelinsky looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Absolutely, I can help you.’”

The Mind-Eye Institute is recognized worldwide for its work in assessing “retinal processing.” The retina is made of brain tissue and sends signals to more than simply an eyesight center. Retinal signals combine (partially beneath a conscious level of awareness) with other sensory signals – from hearing, smell, taste and touch. Further brain processing synthesizes the information and reacts and responds depending on internal sensory signals, explains Dr. Zelinsky. Her studies of retinal stimulation have been described in publications and courses throughout the world.

“When intact, retinal 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 injury – as in Mr. Warnecke’s case – or is under-developed, 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 continually monitor their shifting attention, and it becomes exhausting,” Dr. Zelinsky says.

At the Mind-Eye Institute, “we are enhancing brain function, using therapeutic eyeglasses – Brainwear™– as one way to alter the environment and address symptoms of brain injury, stroke, neurological problems like PTSD — even learning disorders,” she continues. “People who do not need glasses to see clearly also can benefit, because our glasses are designed to stimulate the edges of the eye in addition to the center.”

Meanwhile, Michael is highly protective of his Mind-Eye glasses. That’s because he remains no stranger to injury.

“I am an avid outdoorsman,” says Michael, who also has raced stock cars.

“In 2017, I wore a back-up pair of glasses when I went out into the woods to chop a tree. I did not want anything to happen to my ‘Dr. Zelinsky glasses,’” Michael recalls. Good thing, too. The falling tree hit a rock, took an unexpected bounce and struck Michael in the head, fractured his back, and sent him on another trip to the hospital emergency room – injuries, fortunately, that were not nearly as life-altering as his ladder fall.

“That ladder accident changed me, and Dr. Zelinsky changed me back,” says Michael, who also credits the strong support from his family for his recovery. “I am so grateful.”