Never Forget Who You Are

My husband sometimes lovingly reminds me that first, and foremost, I am a behavioral (and developmental/neuro) optometrist.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I am sure I lose sight….pardon the pun.  As co-founder of the science of PRI Vision, I spend most of my clinical days engulfed in the world of integrative physical therapy, working together with my business partner, Ron.  Ron is the physical therapist who founded the Postural Restoration Institute.  He eventually twisted my arm long enough to convince me to be a part of his integrative world based in Postural Restoration philosophy.  Once I began understanding the immense role the visual system plays in his ability, as a physical therapist, to help patients use their muscles differently to breathe and move better without pain, I was hooked.  Ron and I work symbiotically spending an hour or more together with patients to assess what we can help them change physically through their visual system.  He often remarks about me, “She’s the best physical therapist in the room,” meaning I can do things for patients that no PT can, through the power of the visual system.  Most of our patients have been through countless hours of PT and other therapies attempting to solve their problems, so they typically agree with him.  (Unless you are Jen Poulin, PT, PRC, and Ron asks the PRI Vision class who is the best PT In the room, and Jen shouts out “I am!”….that still cracks me up!  Love you Jen!)

Now that I have another discipline to consider as I make daily decisions on patient management, I feel like there is even more I don’t know.  (Actually, there are also the worlds of dentistry and podiatry involved in this integrative approach, but since their worlds are more black and white in patient impact, it’s a little less to consider on a lens-by-lens change.)  I enjoy reading about the neurology that runs our bodies and visual systems.  Researching “new” reading materials frequently turns into a digging expedition into the archives of behavioral optometric writings from 30 to 100 years ago to learn from my predecessors’ philosophies.  Ideas like how the space around our bodies is interpreted visually, how that interpretation visibly changes our bodies and visual function, and how to change the interpretation and therefore our bodies and visual function.  I have more stimulating discussions over ponderings fueled by changes I get to see in patients’ bodies, by changing people’s vision, than I will ever unfortunately remember.  I am a bit obsessed some days with learning more about the art and science of PRI….I take weekend courses, home study courses, learn the lingo, listen to Ron passionately discuss points with his sounding board of therapists, and anything else that is presented as an opportunity to know more of what Ron knows.  For all of this, I am eternally grateful.  The obsession over information goes both ways; Ron was seriously considering going to optometry school at one point, so he could know more and do more with the visual system than his PT license would allow.  Our hunger for information to support, or change our theories makes our clinical and teaching days pass quickly.

Before Ron, my years in practice grew less traditional and more behavioral in nature as time passed.  For the last 10+ years I’ve been providing vision therapy services for an array of visual difficulties, including visual information processing issues, lazy eyes, eye turns, and strain/stress associated with visual work.  I was on staff at a local rehab hospital for about 5 years, helping patients with visual dysfunction caused by stroke or other brain injury.  I also work with athletes who want to improve their visual skills so they can perform better…having a son who plays competitive baseball and basketball is contributing greatly to my desire to be more involved with athletes.   The relationship between vision and learning was my first passion and the area that made me interested in behavioral optometry.  When I realized many years ago that the more traditional approach to optometric care wasn’t helping some of my patients enough,  I finally decided I should do something about that.  It’s my varied, out-of-the-box background that led Ron to contact me.  These are still areas I practice, although I have another optometrist in my office who provides much of pediatric care.  I am expanding what Ron and I have learned together into those areas as well.

Thursday was different from my typical work day.  I was meeting with a computer/networking specialist about issues we were having in the office.  While most of our conversation stayed on track, as two moms we couldn’t help but talk about our children.  As she showed me a picture of her beautiful family, the youngest boy, about 2 1/2 yrs old, caught my eye.  I eventually asked to see the picture again, and then to see a closer one of him.  It appeared that this child might have an eye turn.  This led to discussion about vision and gross motor development, near point stress, and how these things can affect the entire way a child functions.  We talked not only of the youngest, but of one of the older children who also wears glasses and has migraines.  Finally, we parted.  I was a bit shocked to see that we had been talking for nearly an hour and a half.

Thursday evening brought another gift.  A local Optimist Club had a last-minute cancellation from their scheduled speaker for the meeting that night.  The other behavioral optometrist who works with me was already committed to speak at another club, so I decided to go myself.  The 15 people in attendance that night were mostly grandparents or at least had grown children.  (I hadn’t known that the service focus of Optimist Clubs is children until I got there…truly a gift!)  I was only given 20 minutes to speak, and our workshop that we typically give is designed to be closer to an hour, with lots of time available for interaction and demonstrations during it.  The focus of the workshop is on near point visual stress, the three reactions to it that can impact a child’s performance in school and in life, and that there are options for effective treatment.  By the time I was on the second reaction, hands were going up.  As is typical when this information is presented, there was a common theme to the reactions:  “I had no idea….”  One gentleman finally said, “I think this might be why my grandson has always had trouble reading.  He’s 17, can you still help him?”  This was followed up by “What do I do now (to convince him and his parents to get him evaluated)?” Somewhere around 30 minutes, I knew the president was getting anxious to put a halt to the questions and get on with the extensive agenda that lay before them.  I was still answering questions as I gathered my things, and thanking them for their attention and dinner.  Walking out the door I heard many comments such as “That was a great presentation!” and “I’m so glad I got to hear that information!”.  The loudest one was “That was a damn good presentation!” coming from the same grandfather with concerns about his grandson.

Ron has repeatedly asked me over the past couple of years what I want to leave as my legacy.  What do I want to be known for?  The answer has been the same for a while.  I want to know how to not only guide children’s visual development, but how to make the best decisions for their body development as well, for the whole child.  This holistic approach will address every aspect of their lives in some way, including learning.  I want to teach this approach to as many as will listen, and I discovered that I love teaching almost as much as I love working with patients.  As behavioral optometrists, we can’t provide all the needed care by ourselves, but by working with physical and other disciplines using PRI philosophy, we can make an even bigger difference preventatively for future generations.

Who I am is the reason for the journey I am on.  Thinking back to my very first behavioral optometric seminar, I am so thankful for the speaker that lit a fire in me to do more:  Bob Sanet, OD.  He taught me “it’s all about the space,” and has continued to be a mentor of mine since then, influencing my model of vision in many ways.  My view of this statement has a much broader implication now, and is even more important to my model of vision than it was when I first heard it over 10 years ago.  Many other great behavioral optometrists have added to what he started for me, including WC Maples, Al Sutton, Lenny Press, Paul Harris, Elliott Forrest, Steve Gallop, Bob Kraskin, and of course, the founding father, AM Skeffington.  I owe much to these and many other optometrists.  I am very fortunate to be a behavioral optometrist.  I will never forget that.

Keep moving beyond sight,

Dr. Heidi

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