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Success Stories, Traumatic Brain Injury

Simple Contact Lens Change Gets Bill on Road to ‘Normal’

‘Disappointing’ Diagnosis Causes a Later Head-Turning ‘Wow’

A physical education teacher, struggling “to regain my former self” following a head injury several years earlier, left his first appointment at the Mind-Eye Institute feeling “a bit disappointed.”

Bill Brannigan had just driven more than 40 miles from his home in Frankfort, Illinois to the Mind-Eye Institute in the north Chicago suburb of Northbrook and undergone three hours of testing. He had hoped to find a solution to his headaches, dizziness, light and sound sensitivities, occasional double vision, and nausea near water, but was told, simply, his contact lenses were “over-prescribed” and needed adjustment.

“My contacts were apparently interfering with peripheral eyesight and disrupting my visual processing,” Bill says. “Meanwhile, I had just spent all this time driving and being evaluated for nothing more than a prescription change in my lenses.”

But, later that same evening, “I am helping my wife get one of our sons ready for bed and she says something. I turn my head quickly in her direction and then just freeze,” Bill recalls. “I suddenly realize I have not been able to turn my head like this in the four years since my head-and-neck injury. And all the Mind-Eye did was adjust my contacts prescription. From that moment on, I was ready to go back to the Mind-Eye.”

“At the Mind-Eye Institute, we recognize the critical role that the retina plays in brain activity and the importance of expanding on traditional eye tests for people with compromised brain function to evaluate their visual processing,” explains Carla Adams, OD, Bill’s Mind-Eye optometrist. “When functioning normally, visual processing enables people to understand and interact appropriately to the world around them. When brain circuitry is disrupted due to injury or problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, people become confused about their surrounding environment and exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses to movement, sounds and light.”

Thanks to scientific advances during the past 20 years, “we have learned that the retina is more than just an outgrowth of the brain necessary for sight. It is an intimate part of the central nervous system and very much involved with the regulation and functioning of internal processes, including movement and posture, hormonal balances and circadian rhythms,” Dr. Adams says.

Deborah Zelinsky, OD, founder and executive research director for the Mind-Eye Institute, concurs, adding that the Institute’s team uses individualized lenses to bend light in different ways across the retina.

“The light triggers electrical signals that propagate through neurons. In fact, retinal signaling routes information through multiple brain pathways, creating new pathways that are uncorrupted by injury or disease. Sometimes we use lenses to rebuild or circumvent damaged pathways, thereby enhancing visual skills of spatial awareness and perception,” Dr. Zelinsky says.

It was at his follow-up appointment that Bill received an initial pair of Mind-Eye glasses to wear over his contacts. One of the eyeglass lenses had no prescription; the other, a minor prescription, Bill says, “but both lenses were fitted with filters to strategically block out some incoming light.” Shortly after receiving them, Bill traveled with his family to a lake in Michigan.

“After my head injury, I had been unable to be near water. The movement of water, even when giving my sons a bath, made me nauseous. This time, however, it was different. I was wearing the glasses from Mind-Eye and was able to climb onto a boat and enjoy a ride on the lake. Even more incredibly, I was later able to sit in a chair on the beach, where I got so relaxed, I actually fell asleep.”

Bill sustained his head in jury in 2016 while training in the hope of being accepted for competition on the Ninja Warriors television show. “As part of the routine, I had to jump off a trampoline and grab a ball about the size of a basketball suspended from the ceiling. But I lost my grasp on the ball, missed the crash pad below, and hit the wood floor on my head and neck,” he says. “The next thing I remember is awakening in a hospital bed not knowing where I was or how I got there.”

What followed the three-day stint in the hospital were nagging symptoms that limited the time Bill could sit in front of a computer monitor, hindered his reading skills – “I would read something in a book or magazine and then totally forget what I had just read; I lacked attention, focus” – made driving difficult at night, forced him to spend time in a darkened room to calm his headache and get away from the playful noise of his sons, and kept him out of his beloved men’s baseball league – “I was always dizzy and sometimes would see two balls coming at me.”

Bill was eventually able to get his damaged shoulder joint repaired after the fall, but the various doctors and specialists he saw concerning his traumatic brain injury symptoms were unable to fully resolve them.

“During the COVID pandemic lockdown in 2020, I got back on the Internet looking for other potential treatments that might help when information about the Mind-Eye Institute popped up. I checked out the Institute’s web site, watched videos of patients who had been experiencing symptoms similar to mine, and decided to make an appointment,” Bill recalls. “At that point, I did not have my expectations too high. I was simply hoping to get something out of the visit.”

He since has – and then some!

“I am really pleased. Starting with that first appointment, I have definitely gotten the results I needed,” Bill exclaims.

Now on his fifth or sixth pair of therapeutic Mind-Eye “brain” glasses – “I no longer wear contacts,” Bill says he is about 90 percent “back to being myself” – indeed, so close to normal, that he is coaching and playing baseball and in training again for Ninja Warriors.

“Only with my wife’s permission, of course,” Bill laughs.