Christmas at UIWRSO

One thing that I love about attending RSO is the ability to practice my religion freely and celebrate religious differences with my fellow classmates. Every year, Fellowship of Christian Optometrists, or FCO, from our school has the tradition of setting up a nativity scene, as well as a tree in the front lobby in recognition of the Christmas holiday that is quickly approaching.  FCO is just one of the many religious organizations we have here at RSO. They participate in frequent vision screenings at Travis Park to help provide visual care to the homeless, bible study sessions, as well as other holiday events. I had the privilege of helping some members of FCO to beautify our school just a little more, all while listening to some festive Christmas music. Melissa Gonzales and Heather Caton, President and Vice President of FCO, respectively, held the event and hope to help the organization grow through the only faith-based optometry school. RSO is all about the spirit of giving and Christmas in that we hold book drives, canned food drives, and hope to help those who are less fortunate with vision screenings. We hope that you remember to help, volunteer, and give this time of year, also. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I hope the upcoming holiday seasons treat you all very well with happiness, good health, and family!

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Preparing for Finals

One of the most stressful times of the year for all students is finals week. UIWRSO prepares students very well to succeed on their finals throughout the year with personalized help from teachers, one-on-one tutoring, and fun review days using games like Jeopardy! No matter if you’re in undergrad or already in optometry school, hopefully these tips below will help you to get through finals just a little better. I asked several students from each class what kind of stress reliever/distraction/tips they have for finals week.

First year students:

“I’m being very cautious about finals. I don’t know what to expect yet, but hopefully the preparation the professors and I have put forth will reflect in my grades.”

“As a study break, I like to watch YouTube videos about cats. Don’t get too distracted though, because one leads to another and you end up on YouTube for an hour before you notice.”

“I had a teacher in undergrad who would always say, ‘Study smart, not hard.’ I think that is probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”

Second year students:

“Starbucks is my favorite thing right now.”

“I enjoy dancing on my study breaks. Just getting up and moving does wonders for your brain. I seem to retain more information if I am up and about.”

“Try to use some of the study and exam tips they have online, such as eating peppermint gum, using certain scents, etc. while studying. It works for me!”

“Have a strategy before you go into the test! If you know you take a long time, make sure to pace yourself.”

Third year students:

“My advice to first and second years has always been to make sure you start studying for finals a few weeks ahead of schedule. You might think you can wait until the last second, but it’s not a very good idea.”

“Remember that grades aren’t everything. I have seen a lot of students wear themselves out to the point of exhaustion! Make sure you are exercising, taking breaks, and eating properly.”

Fourth year students:

“Studying gets easier and easier each year. You finally understand what each teacher wants and by the time you get to fourth year, you’ll have already taken some parts of boards. Push through!”

“Remember this is the best time of your life. Yes, it’s difficult right now, but it will definitely be worth it. You are working to save lives.”

That being said, I hope some of these tips will relieve your stress, or give you some motivation. I wish you all success on your finals!

The American Academy of Optometry 2014

UIWRSO Group Picture at AAO 2014!
UIWRSO Group Picture at AAO 2014!


When I stepped off the plane in Denver, Colorado, I turned to my classmate, Alicia Chacon, and asked “why would they have a convention in such a cold place?” Our phones alerted us that it will be -9 degrees Fahrenheit tonight and I felt my toes turn numb. Coming from San Antonio, Texas, we were definitely taken by surprised. However I probably spent only a total of 20 minutes outside in the beautiful flurry of snow and learned a life-long lesson.

The University of the Incarnate Word, Rosenberg School of Optometry had over two dozen students in attendance at the American Academy of Optometry (AAO), 2014. Last year there were over 300 students from across the nation, but this year Academy reported over 1000 students in attendance, the largest in attendance ever! Our school definitely has a huge emphasis in optometric research. This year our local chapter of AAO, led by student intern, Ashley Plyant, did an amazing job educating students about the importance of supporting Optometric Research and rallying a group of students to attend the Academy. As a result, we had more UIWRSO students than ever attend.

A handful of students who participated in optometric research were very excited to see their abstracts accepted into the Academy. I am a student researcher who is just learning the research process: from forming the hypothesis, to data collection, to presenting, and publishing. The concept of research was once so confusing, but now has become so clear thanks to the Academy. The summation of our research teams’ work is now shared with an audience of doctors who are curious, questioning, and learning. Dr. Trevino presented our research results in an interesting, clear and concise manner, that it kept the audience on their toes. When I sat in the rooms of the Academy, I learned so much, the education provided in optometry school is just the basics, there are optometric scientists always striving to to find better and better ways to care for their patients from innovation to new discoveries.

10270464_372776716215512_5067311626676979005_nOn Thursday night, UIWRSO hosted an Academy Networking Reception. Our Dean, Dr. Wingert sat in the front to welcome us to the reception with some food and drinks. I was so glad that I came because I saw faces of my TAs from first year, the rest of class of 2013 and 2014! The class of 2013 and 2014 were the first two classes to graduate from UIWRSO. They were an amazing bunch who pioneered through the program and helped to contribute to the way our school runs today. The interns, now doctors, started most of the school organizations and laid the foundation for how active our school is today. I have much respect for them and I’m really glad that they came out to this networking reception! In fact, a great amount of our graduates went on to pursue a residency; so they came back telling the students about their experiences. My classmates had a great time talking to the recent graduates, the resident, and the our faculty that came out that night.

Most of the students wanted to obtain their student fellowship at the Academy. The requirements are as follows: 4 hours of Continuing Education, 2 hours of attending paper presentations, 2 hours of attending poster presentations, a symposium on a specific topic such as Low Vision or Glaucoma, and various students meetings such as the AAO business meeting, the student networking lunch, and more. You can learn more from: (  It sounds like a lot right? The reason that the Academy has launched this exciting new Student Fellowship program is to encourage students to experience the entire meeting, hoping that it will stimulate improved integration of all of the opportunities offered at the meeting, encourage future involvement, and persuade students to become Fellows upon graduation. I really enjoyed picking the CEs that interested me and because the Academy was able to offer so many courses, some of my classmates were able to complete the requirements in two days. I truly enjoyed my experience at the Academy and I would love to come back again and again!

Listening in and learning at the COVD Convention

Thank you OEP for the student travel grant!  From Left to right: Maggie Fransisco, Susan Ly, Kory Botelho, Nikolai Perez, Current OEP Resident - Sandy Tran, OD, Kelin Kushin, Optometrists Change Lives Writing Competition student winner - Katie Davis, OD.
Thank you OEP for the student travel grant! From Left to right: Maggie Fransisco, Susan Ly, Kory Botelho, Nikolai Perez, Current OEP Resident – Sandy Tran, OD, OEP Executive Director – Kelin Kushin, Optometrists Change Lives Writing Competition student winner – Katie Davis, OD.

The Optometric Extension Program (OEP) helped me travel to the 2014 COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) Convention through a travel grant. I am very grateful for this opportunity because I have been interested in attending since my first year in optometry school. I know that each optometry convention that I attend has their interests and specific courses of continuing education, but what I liked most about COVD was the community’s passion to help their patients. In all the CEs and sessions that I attended, one theme resonated, how can optometrists educate parents and other health professionals about what we do, so that we can give better patient care. I really enjoyed hearing about case studies of co-management of pediatric patients with ophthalmologists and neurologists because I plan to practice progressively to give my patients holistic, inter-professional, health care. COVD focuses on many other topics, for example, below are the COVD statements; you can read more here.

COVD Mission Statement

Improving lives by advancing excellence in optometric vision therapy through education and board certification.

COVD Vision Statement

To facilitate ongoing progress in developmental vision care, advocate for wider adoption of optometric vision therapy, and increase recognition of its integral role in enhancing learning, rehabilitation, productivity, and overall quality of life.

The exhibit hall was like none that I have ever seen before! Due to the specific instruments and equipment needed to practice Vision Therapy (VT) and rehabilitation, I was able to talk to vendors who sell to this specialty and learn more about their products. As a great appreciator of technology, I was drawn to the G-lab booth because they had a stereoscope for an iPad and an app that allows for interactive vision evaluation and therapy. My good friend, Nikolai Perez, the current OEP national student liaison, was a vision therapist before attending the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, School of Optometry. He saw the potential in this instrument and purchased one at the convention. I was really glad that I was able to travel the exhibition hall with someone that has prior experience as a therapist because it contributed to my understanding of vision therapy patients and clinically working with VT equipment in preparation for my fourth year in optometry school. 

Mrs. Benoit and Mrs. Kushin at the OEP Table
Mrs. Benoit and Mrs. Kushin at the OEP Table

Kelin Kushin, Executive Director of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation, gave every student a Brock’s String. Mrs. Kushin has expanded OEP, especially within the optometry student community; she has also helped organized many events with our school, such as a Skype meeting with Dr. Susan Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, and a Skype meeting with Mrs. Benoit, author of Jillian’s Story. It was also a great pleasure to finally meet Mrs. Robin Benoit in person at the OEP table; she is very friendly and has been conducting Skype meetings with our school for the past two years! The Brock’s String was a thoughtful gift and I was really happy because we have just learned in RSO’s Vision Therapy course the clinical uses for the Brock’s String. In fact, one of our VT professors, Dr. Yukata Maki, Chief of the Vision Therapy and Binocular Vision Service, has just received his fellowship with COVD, under the following rigorous requirements. It is a great honor and Dr. Maki is now board certified in Vision Development and Vision Therapy. The UIWRSO student COVD chapter celebrated his new achievement with a group meeting and a chocolate cake!

Ricky’s Story

Many times, optometry students gain a more personal connection to the field once they start school. One such example is here at UIWRSO: a second year student named Amy Cuevas. Amy’s fiancé, Ricky Ruzicka, suffers from Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), which is a genetic disorder that affects central vision. Amy was already attending UIWRSO before Ricky was diagnosed with this condition. Since then, both of them have advocated for LHON research and awareness. Recently, he shared his story at our school’s Low Vision Club meeting, and now I would like to share his story with you.

Ricky named his presentation “The Invisible Stepping Stone,” which fit perfectly as he explained that everyone has stepping stones in their life, but his is one that he cannot see. He started off by sharing one of his favorite quotes from Winston Churchill: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Right off the bat, you could tell that Ricky has a great attitude towards the things he has overcome in his life. He explained that he had 20/20 vision until about a year ago and played sports, such as baseball. He was a normal, outgoing student, trying to achieve his certificate for plumbing and welding.

He used to play ball with some friends before class and noticed that one day, when one of his friends threw the ball at him, he got hit in the face with the ball! He could see it, but noticed that his vision was getting blurry. Amy asked him to go to the optometrist, but he delayed for four months. Once he went, the optometrist referred him to an ophthalmologist, after he observed that Ricky could not even read the big “E” in the affected eye. They noticed that his optic nerve was inflamed and pale, and insisted he get further testing. This was about the time that Amy was entering school and because they lived in Maryland at the time, he felt like he could get away with not going until Amy was settled in Texas. Once he got back to Maryland, his friends suggested he go to John Hopkins. At this point, only one eye was affected. After waiting in the ER for several hours, the ophthalmologist there suggested seeing a neuro-opthalmologist. He was hospitalized for a few days, and was then informed that he was diagnosed with LHON. It now has affected both eyes.

Ricky showed us what it looked like to have LHON versus normal vision. He mentioned that he cannot recognize faces, read, or even drive at this point because of red, black, and white floaters that are constantly present, as well as a black spot that is mostly present in his central vision (see photos below to compare). So what was his next step? Because there is no cure yet for LHON, doctors recommended that he take a “mitochondrial cocktail” including Idebenone, vitamin C, E, and omega 3 to help slow down the progression of the damage. He explained that he tried to keep working, but decided to stop once it became too dangerous to handle power tools without seeing correctly. He received a lot of different reactions from friends and family; it was difficult to hang out with friends because he couldn’t drive, and his family was “babying” him too much, to the point where he felt handicapped. At one point, he loved to just spend his time sleeping, because it was the only place he could achieve 20/20 vision again. I couldn’t imagine having this kind of experience; it was very humbling and emotional to hear that.

Ricky explained that now he is trying to keep himself busy with the help of his friends, family, and Amy. He moved to Texas with Amy and now receives many benefits (such as programs and devices to help his condition). He showed us the many devices he uses to help him see better, such as wide-ruled low vision paper and markers, digital magnifiers, and his audio player (which reads books aloud to him). He also plays in Goalball, which is a team sport for blind athletes. Even though many players who participate are not completely blind, they wear “blackout” goggles so that all players rely only on their hearing. It involves teams of three that throw a ball, which has bells in it, to the other team’s goal. It looks like a lot of fun, and Ricky is working with our school’s SVA, or Sports Vision Association, to create a team for next semester. He is also in the process of obtaining his Bachelor’s in social work and hopes to get a Master’s degree, as well.

This was an incredibly inspirational presentation to see. It gives all of the students at UIWRSO a look into someone’s life who is struggling with their vision. We are able to bridge a gap between a personal connection and our school. The fact that Ricky and Amy are working to enhance the school by educating students and starting a sports team, just proves that our school is not only focused on the what, but rather the who. We are all rooting for Ricky and hope he achieves his goal of joining the US Paralympics team for Goalball in the near future.

To keep up with Ricky’s story, make sure to see his “Through Ricky’s Eyes” page on Facebook:

If you would like to donate to Ricky’s fund to help with his LHON, please go to: