Almost 20 Years Later, Brain-Injured Teacher Finds Relief
She Credits Mind-Eye Institute Glasses for a Return to ‘Being Me’
Her nightmare started with a brain injury while playing in a staff-student basketball game. Her odyssey for help ended almost 20 years later with a pair of eyeglasses – “brain” glasses — prescribed by the Mind-Eye Institute in Northbrook, Ill.
And, Sheila Gavigan, a high school teacher who resides in Tacoma, Wash., calls the entire experience a “miracle.”
“Between 1998, when I fell and hit my head during the game, and 2016, my first visit to Mind-Eye, I struggled to get through my day,” says Sheila, who returned to teaching following three months of neurorehabilitation after the accident. “I went to work, did what I could, came home and did nothing – not even eat. I spent weekends in a quiet, dark room – no music, no lights. I was using 20-30 sick days a year just to cope, so I could continue teaching. Noise, light, work – the totality of it overwhelmed me. I was constantly stressed and anxious.”
But, the Mind-Eye team “changed everything,” Sheila says. “They put me on the road to normalization.”
The Mind-Eye Institute (www.mindeye.com) has had success in using therapeutic eyeglasses and other optometric interventions to help patients redevelop visual skills during recovery from debilitating symptoms of brain injuries and other neurological disorders, as well as develop new skills in patients who have been labeled with “learning problems.”
“By changing the way light disperses on the retina, we can affect how the brain reacts to information about the environment and modify a person’s spatial awareness, body posture and selective attention to sound,” says Mind-Eye founder and executive research director Deborah Zelinsky, OD.
Medical doctors at first had been confident that Sheila’s concussive symptoms would clear in a matter of a few months. Why not? She had been hospitalized after the accident with an intelligence score of 60 due to her injured brain and came out of rehabilitation with a score of 85 – an improvement cheered by her health care team.
But the promised “few months” turned into years, and the years into a decade or more, and still her concussive symptoms persisted.
In addition to light and noise sensitivity and plain exhaustion, Sheila’s traumatic contact with a basketball court floor caused her balance issues — “much like those of an Alzheimer’s patient. I needed to touch a wall or other support when I walked,” She also recalls being able hear, but not always comprehend, what people were saying, and says her eyesight would sometimes go “fuzzy.”
“I had been an avid reader, too, but that ended with my injury,” Sheila says.
She adds that, “when teaching, I would sometimes think of something to say, and then my mind would go blank. I could not make connections. And, I probably was fined an overall $2,000 for late bill payments, because I would write checks and then forget to mail them.”
The symptoms even made going to stores difficult. “I would wait for a store clerk to bring clothes to me to consider for purchase, and then I would buy enough for a year so that I did not have to keep returning to the store.”
The head injury was disrupting Sheila’s sleep patterns, too – “I would not sleep more than an hour at a time” – and she suffered what she terms “horrible headaches.”
Meanwhile, the standard health care system did not prove helpful in addressing her health issues. “I went to one primary care physician who diagnosed me as simply being depressed,” Sheila says. “Eventually, I lost hope that anything was going to get better.”
But then something Sheila calls “amazing” happened.
It was the fall of 2015 when a cousin told Sheila about a recently published book, The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back. In it, DePaul University academician Clark Elliott, PhD, details his two-year journey back to health following eight years of symptoms from mild traumatic brain injury. He calls the work of the Mind-Eye Institute “magic” and credits his recovery to Dr. Zelinsky and neuroscientist Donalee Markus, PhD of Designs for Strong Minds™.
“I obtained a copy of the book, and had a friend read it to me,” Sheila says. Despite the skepticism of her friend and friend’s family and Sheila’s own doubts, “I contacted the Mind-Eye Institute for help and made an appointment.”
There Sheila underwent comprehensive testing unlike any given her by other optometrists and physicians. Dr. Zelinsky then prescribed her a pair of “brain” glasses – what the Mind-Eye team refers to as “Brainwear™.
“About a week after receiving my glasses, I began walking without having to touch walls. I started feeling less stressed; my headaches stopped,” Sheila says. “Several weeks later, I was sleeping better.”
The Mind-Eye Institute is recognized worldwide for its work in assessing “retinal processing.” The term “retinal 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.
“Intact ‘retinal processing’ enables people to understand and interact appropriately to the world around them. If brain circuitry is out of sync because it has been disrupted – as in Sheila’s case — people can become confused about their surrounding environment and exhibit inappropriate reactions and responses,” Dr. Zelinsky says. “Their bodies are often flooded with stress chemicals, which have many effects, including alteration of peripheral eyesight. Changes in peripheral eyesight affect how they process their environment. They live with a vicious cycle of discomfort internally and confusion externally”
Sheila agrees. “Until I wore my Mind-Eye glasses, I had no sense of my body in space,” she says. “I felt like the Pillsbury doughboy.”
“The connection between the mind and eye is unique to each person’s processing system and experiences,” says Dr. Zelinsky. “Neuro-optometric rehabilitation is able to use this concept of mind-eye testing – versus simply eye testing – to prescribe therapeutic eyeglasses, filters, prisms or other optometric appliances on a very individualized basis to stimulate the retina in ways that bring sensory systems into synchronization and alter a patient’s environment.”
Sheila says she is now 70 percent recovered – and looking forward to the day when she declares herself “back to being me.”
“You know what’s truly amazing?” she asks. “I am now able to get up every day without feeling anxious, teach, come home, still have the energy to fix myself something to eat, and then even go out afterwards and do something with a friend. That’s what I call a true miracle.”
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