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Face-Plant Results in Years of Severe Brain Injury Symptoms

Tennessee Woman Calls Mind-Eye ‘Out of Desperation;’ Grateful She Did

Ellen Rickard’s face broke her fall. 

That accident lead to nearly 10 years of traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms, including vertigo, double-vision, memory and decision-making deficiencies, and severe light and sound sensitivities that affected her balance and often forced her to remain at home.

But a book she learned about from TBI groups on the Internet offered her a new direction, and the staff at the Northbrook, Ill.-based Mind-Eye Institute gave her hope.

The book, Ghost in My Brain, details DePaul University Chicago professor Clark Elliott’s long road to recovery following his TBI and the credit he gives the professionals at the Mind-Eye Institute and Designs for Strong Minds in Highland Park, Ill. for his dramatic return to health.

“When I made the appointment with Mind-Eye in 2021, it was out of desperation. I was thinking Dr. Zelinsky would be the 20th in a long line of doctors whom I had been seeing for my problems,” says Ellen, who resides in Chattanooga, Tenn. But she quicky added she hoped Dr. Zelinsky also would be the last. “She is so kind; she helps people. During my first visit to Mind-Eye, she spent hours evaluating me to get to the core of my problem, even though her family was waiting outside to go to dinner with her. She would not give up. 

“I actually went out and later apologized to her family for keeping Dr. Zelinsky so long,” Ellen laughs.

The “Dr. Zelinsky” to whom Ellen 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 Ellen, Dr. Zelinsky indicated her brain injury had disrupted normal synchronization between eyes and ears.

“Visual processing skills are essential to all aspects of quality life,” Dr. Zelinsky emphasizes. “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.”

The term “visual processing” refers to the brain’s almost-instantaneous ability – consciously and non-consciously – to take in external sensory signals (from eyesight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch), combine them with a person’s internal sensory signals (such as head position and muscle tension) and then synthesize – process — the information, allowing a person to react and respond normally to his or her environment.

“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.

Ellen’s odyssey through the health care system began in 2011 after falling and hitting her face. The bruises and black eye were difficult enough, but, as they healed, Ellen started experiencing the effects of diffuse axonal injury (DAI) due to shearing injuries to her brain. DAI primarily affects the white matter of the brain (the part that carries the nerve signals) and can cause a cascade of neurological dysfunctions.

“My primary problem was the vertigo, but I also suffered from double-vision, problems making decisions, loss of short-term memory, and light and sound sensitivities. Noise would make me lose my balance. I also experienced involuntary movements,” says Ellen, who was in her early fifties when the accident occurred. At the time of the injury, she and her husband were starting up their own industrial equipment business, but her emerging symptoms severely limited her ability – and energy —  to help.

The health system “could not send me to enough physicians to diagnose and treat me. I was so medicated I was often confined to a wheelchair when I left the house and could not think properly. I knew simply taking another pill would not help. I needed to get off all of the medicine and determine how much of my brain was truly working.” Ellen turned to TBI groups on the Internet where she heard about Clark Elliott’s book in 2015, the year in which it was published. 

“The book was comforting. I knew then that I was not the only person on earth so affected by noise and dizziness. The author indicates how he would literally drop to the ground with vertigo and a lot of movement around him,” Ellen remembers. But she could not finish the book. “It was too overwhelming, and reading was difficult for me.”  The book sat for about five years before Ellen picked it up again and read more about Dr. Zelinsky and the Mind-Eye Institute. She then made her first Mind-Eye appointment.

“I was so fragile at the time that my Mind-Eye testing had to be conducted over a two-day period,” says Ellen, who made the long drive to Northbrook, Ill. from Tennessee with her husband. She says the evaluation “genuinely surprised me. I initially thought it would be more like a standard eye examination, but it was not that at all. The testing focused on my visual processing capabilities—how my brain was controlling my eye movement and visual attention.”

Dr. Zelinsky prescribed Ellen an individualized pair of therapeutic “brain” contact lenses with clear glasses and filters to be worn over them. “The effects of the lenses were not initially dramatic, but after several weeks of wear, my energy began to return. I started doing the ‘deep-dive’ cleaning that I had been wanting to do on my book shelves and in the laundry room but could not do previously because the tasks had seemed so overwhelming.”

Although Ellen still suffers symptoms of her brain injury, some of them – like her vertigo, eyesight and balance problems, and thinking and concentration difficulties — have diminished. But Ellen also is realistic. “Dr. Z says I will likely need another 18 months to gradually regain functions, as brain pathways need to break a 10-year habit and re-route.”

Ellen says “desperation” is what motivated her to contact the Mind-Eye Institute – and she is grateful that she did so. “Other doctors wanted to help me, but they just did not know how. Dr. Zelinsky, on the other hand, understands how the mind and sensory inputs work together. She simply will not give up until she identifies the problem.”

Of course, Ellen has some concluding advice: “Do not use your face to break a fall!

Although Ellen Rickard is enjoying progressive symptomatic relief, her 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.

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