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Success Stories, Traumatic Brain Injury

Plugs and ‘Brain’ Glasses Return His Balance and Focus

Brain-Injured Wheaton, Ill. Man Back to Biking, Singing, and Playing Music

Plugs for his tear ducts returned his balance, and therapeutic eyeglasses got him back into focus, thanks to an in-depth evaluation and diagnosis by the team at the Mind-Eye Institute in Northbrook, Ill. Now brain-injured patient Adriaan van Wijk of Wheaton, Illinois is slowly regaining what he calls the “privilege” of singing, playing instruments, drawing, reading for longer periods, and riding his electric and mountain bikes.

Indeed, Adriaan’s traumatic brain injury occurred while he was completing a 22-mile journey on his electric bike, which has 25-mile-per-hour capability. “I heard a strange sound coming from the front wheel, checked it, but could not determine the problem.” The issue proved to be a malfunctioning disc brake – something he learned too late when the front wheel suddenly locked, catapulting him forward, over the bike, head first. He was wearing a helmet, but the force of the fall rendered him unconscious for five hours. A witness to the accident called first-responders.

“I was so medicated I do not even remember my first three weeks in the hospital,” Adriaan says. “When I became more alert, my wife told me I had had a bike accident and was in the hospital. I could not believe it. I thought I was simply resting in some type of vacation center.”

His discharge from the hospital proved only the start of a long string of neurological symptoms that included difficulty with balance and eye focus – “If I were looking at an object in the distance, everything before it and everything behind it would be out of focus; short-term memory loss — “I could not remember the words to songs I had always enjoyed singing;” reading deficiencies; and an inability to continue his position as a well-respected information technology specialist managing complicated programs, scripting, and computer data.

“My position required a tremendous amount of focus and energy,” Adriaan says. “I realized keeping that up for a full eight hours was out of the question. My brain was easily distracted; it was all over the place.”

The injury also muddled Adriaan’s thinking – and his emotions — as well. “When I arrived home from the hospital, I had no clue where I was supposed to sleep. I did not know I had a bedroom. Then, I see my son and daughter in the house, and I am surprised. I ask them whether they live here, too. All the while, I am thinking ‘wow, what a cool concept. The children are choosing to live with mom and dad in the same house.’”

But, for all his symptoms, Adriaan points to balance as being the most problematic. “After awaking in the morning, I would sit on the edge of my bed just to gain my composure and a sense of balance before putting my feet on the ground.”

In the search for relief, Adriaan underwent craniosacral therapy and later laser therapy of the brain in an effort to retrieve memory. But it was a mention of the Mind-Eye Institute by his wife’s friend and a reading of the book Ghost in My Brain that truly set the compass for Adriaan’s return journey to normalcy.

“My wife was the one who started reading the book, and then I began reading what I could of it,” says Adriaan. Ghost in My Brain, published in 2015, details DePaul University Chicago professor Clark Elliott’s long road to recovery following an unexpected traumatic brain injury due to a minor traffic accident. The author credits the professionals at the Mind-Eye Institute and Designs for Strong Minds in Highland Park, Ill. for a dramatic and complete return to his normal self.

Adriaan clearly remembers his first appointment at the Mind-Eye Institute. “I did not know what to expect from Dr. Zelinsky, but she was so personal and knowledgeable. I told her about my eyesight – everything being out of focus before and after an object at which I was looking. She says, ‘Ahhh, that is because your injury is causing the information streaming through your eyes to be combined out of sync at later points in the brain.’”

The “Dr. Zelinsky” to whom Adriaan refers is Deborah Zelinsky OD, founder and executive director of the Mind-Eye Institute’s research. She and her Mind-Eye team have achieved worldwide recognition for use of therapeutic eyeglasses, lenses, prisms, and filters to vary the amount, intensity, and angle of light that passes through the retina. The retina is part of the central nervous system and a primary portal through which information enters the brain.

“By manipulating light with eyeglasses – ‘brain’ glasses, we are often able to reduce symptoms and restore comfort to patients who need to rebuild visual processing skills compromised by brain injury, head trauma, stroke, and other neurological disorders,” says Dr. Zelinsky. “Our unique, scientific-based, patented, optometric testing; and advanced visual skill-building also help develop new processing capabilities in patients with dyslexia, attention disorders, and other learning deficiencies.”

Following extensive testing of Adriaan, Dr. Zelinsky indicated his brain injury had disrupted the link between his peripheral eyesight and his internal perception of surrounding space. The normal synchronization between sensory systems, specifically eyes and ears, also had been disrupted. “Who knew your eyes hear?” Adriaan asks.

Dr. Zelinsky placed a pair of punctal plugs in his tear ducts to “calm his brain.” The following morning, “I realized my balance was 100 percent back. I got up from bed and then went back down just to test it. I got back up again and jumped out of bed, all the time thinking, ‘this is amazing,’” Adriaan says.

In fact, Adriaan’s balance was so intact, he was later able to stand on a chair and install mosquito netting in his backyard – something he would not have done before receiving the tear-duct plugs.

A couple of weeks after insertion of the punctal plugs, Adriaan’s first pair of Mind-Eye glasses arrived. “I initially thought, ‘I don’t need glasses. I see well enough.’ But wearing what Dr. Zelinsky calls brain glasses improved my peripheral eyesight, brought back my focus, and enabled me to read for longer periods. The glasses also helped changed the way my brain looks at objects; my depth of field was normalized,” Adriaan recalls.

“If central and peripheral eyesight fail to connect and interact properly or if eyesight and listening abilities are uncoordinated, then a patient’s ability to visualize is affected,” Dr. Zelinsky emphasizes.

“People can become confused about their surrounding environment, have limited perception and awareness, and experience difficulties in learning, attention, reading, cognition, posture, and balance when brain circuitry is not synchronized,” Dr. Zelinsky says.

As for Adriaan, he is back to his passions of riding bikes, including an off-road mountain bike; singing – “I now remember the words;” and playing his guitar and penny whistle. “Of course, a therapist rode with me when I started biking again,” he laughs.

His energy levels are also returning, although initial efforts to mow his lawn were not as successful as he hoped. “I only was able to cut about half the yard at first, but, no worries, I have a son who finished the rest.”

Although Adriaan van Wyk is enjoying progressive symptomatic relief, his experience is not always the norm nor is it guaranteed for every patient. Check out the Mind-Eye Institute website at www.mindeye.com for additional information.