The San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind Partnership with UIWRSO

As a fourth year intern, students at UIWRSO get the chance to have their low vision rotation through the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind (SALB). The organization has been around for more than 80 years in the city of San Antonio, and has spread to many other cities, not only in Texas, but also to New Mexico and Oklahoma. I attended a Low Vision Club meeting where the SALB was able to show the students some of the various services they provide to the blind and visually impaired, so that before we go to our rotation, we have a good idea of all the incredible things the organization does.

UIWRSO students get very familiar with the SALB’s Low Vision Clinic, which has seven state-of-the-art exam lanes. The speakers explained that the eye exams actually used to take place in a much smaller location, which is now part of the Lighthouse Rehabilitation Center for the blind or visually impaired, where they learn to live independently and do daily chores and tasks on their own. Not only do they provide these services, but they also help in teaching people new skills or help in assisting them in continuing their work (with or without the use of visual aids), so that they can become successfully employed.

The SALB is unique in that it employs close to 425 people, which nearly half of whom are blind. The products that these employees make are distributed and sold in over 14 stores throughout a few states. Employees get competitive pay, and also medical and retirement benefits. They manufacture various supplies, including those for offices, as well as those for the military. The speakers showed us some of these supplies, and the craftsmanship on the products was impeccable.

The organization also has a shop for the blind here in San Antonio. They are able to purchase products such as braille materials, large print items, canes, magnifiers, etc. They showed us some of the items that the blind or visually impaired can buy. One of the most interesting products was a little remote-control looking item. The speakers explained that the blind and visually impaired need help in determining colors for the clothes they wear, which is something I think people take advantage of everyday. The remote control is pressed up against the clothing in question. You push a button and the device tells you what color the clothing is!

Not only does the organization have all of these great programs and devices, but they also have the Blind Children’s Education Program, which is the only one of its kind in Texas. It helps children from birth to the age of 14 with the use of enrichment programs and several activities throughout the year. One of the speakers explained how their annual Easter egg hunt is a huge success and is getting bigger each year. They told us a story of how one mother of a visually impaired child had “never seen her child happier” than when they found one of the eggs during the Easter egg hunt this past year.

Learning more about the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind made me realize the importance that UIWRSO plays in the community. The San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind is doing amazing things in our city, and it’s great to know that we can have a small part in their mission to improve and empower the lives of the blind and visually impaired.SALB SALB 2 SALB 3 SALB 4 SALB 5 SALB 6 SALB 7 SALB 8 SALB 9 SALB 10 SALB 11 SALB 12 SALB 13

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: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Through-Rickys-Eyes/694956877213226

If you would like to donate to Ricky’s fund to help with his LHON, please go to: http://www.gofundme.com/83mpug

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Impact of InfantSEE Event on “Future Eye Doctors”

UIWRSO students, faculty, staff, friends and family came to enjoy the InfantSEE event on Friday, September 26. It was in a beautiful venue on main campus, and everyone was dressed for the occasion. It was a great event to bring awareness to the InfantSEE program and see how blindness has affected one talented individual, Mr. Tom Sullivan. As I sat in the crowd and listened to the InfantSEE statistics from Dr. Glen Steele, I was amazed by the stories of children whose lives were saved from this program. Tons of “awws” came from the crowd as we saw pictures of children who participated in the program and were essentially saved by it. Tom Sullivan was next, and he was an amazing performer. He called all of the students in the crowd “future eye doctors” and addressed us as such for the remainder of the event. He made everyone laugh, cry, and just feel great about the program. It is so wonderful to see someone make the best of a situation and share their experiences.

I asked several of the students what they felt about the InfantSEE program and event, and if they believe they will be involved in the program after they graduate from UIWRSO. Here were some of the comments I heard throughout the night:

“I had heard about InfantSEE in my undergrad program, but this event helped me to get more details about it, and now I am pledging to participate in InfantSEE when I graduate.”

“Tom Sullivan is an inspiration for us all. We, as students, can make a difference and prevent blindness from happening.”

“This was a great way for faculty and students to come together. I can personally say that it was incredible to see our professors promote this kind of program because we look up to them. Watching them be involved in something so important makes me realize how important it is, as well.”

“I never thought of myself as such an integral part in someone’s overall health. Most people just think we check their eyes, and that’s the end of it. We need to raise more awareness of this program, and the easiest way to do that is be providers ourselves.”

“I am privileged to be part of a school that believes in and promotes such an amazing program.”

When asked the question “Will you be an InfantSEE provider when you graduate?” 100% of the students I asked said, “Yes.” You could not have asked for a better outcome from the event. The program and the event personally moved me, as well. I pledge to be an InfantSEE provider when I graduate and have my own practice. To know that you could prevent blindness and even save a child’s life just by giving a pediatric eye exam moves me beyond words.

 

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Last photo courtesy of James DeMarco.

 

Low Vision Expo

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This is my second year volunteering at the Low Vision Expo.

The volunteers consist of high school students, RSO Low Vision Club members and San Antonio Lighthouse of the Blind members. I really enjoy the Low Vision Expo because you can find the latest in low vision aids magnifiers, closed circuit TV’s, computers and other items. I had a lot of fun learning how to use these gadgets.

Also there are community agency representatives who will answer questions concerning their services and products. When I had some free time, I found myself talking to the representatives; it was a great learning experience because I learned more about the needs of low vision patients outside the exam room. For example, there are companies that can come into your home and make it low vision friendly. There was also a free booklet compiled with Low Vision resources. Flipping through the pages, I’m glad to know that San Antonio is a Low Vision friendly place.

There were many vendors including our school: San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, Christal Vision, DARS (Division for Blind Services), Guide Dogs of Texas, HIMS Inc., San Antonio Eye Bank, Santa Rosa Low Vision Clinic, Texas Talking Book Program, Lions Low Vision Center, UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry, Via Metropolitan Transit with Buster their mascot, Low Vision Resource Center (Low Vision Club) and (Owl Radio) with Owl mascot and more community agencies.

 

For more information about Low Vision: 
 (210)829-4223, 
 email lowvisionresourcecenter@yahoo.com
 visit www.lowvisionclub.org

Low Vision Rehabilitation Center

IMG_8518_FotorI am currently in-house for my last semester of optometry school.  My in-house semester consists of rotations through Bowden Eye Care and Health Center, CommuniCare Health Centers on Callaghan and in Kyle, San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, and the contact lens clinic and the vision therapy/electrodiagnostic clinic at the University of the Incarnate Word Eye Institute.

My first and current rotation is at the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center at the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind.  The center is in a new building that was unveiled this past fall.

The new building also has a low vision store, library, playroom, technology room, conference room, other Lighthouse program rooms, and a production facility.

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IMG_8525_FotorThe Lighthouse employs legally blind or visually impaired individuals at the production facility who manufacture and assemble items such as mechanical pencils, rollerball pens, highlighters, aerospace insulation blankets, and other textile apparel items.

Every morning, my clinic group and I walk through the manufacturing and assembly plant to get to the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center, and it is really inspiring to see the employees hard at work.

Some employees have multiple impairments, such as visual and hearing, yet they do not let their impairments hold them back from working and being self-sufficient.  It is great to see these individuals enjoy and succeed at their jobs.

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As interns, my classmates and I are able to provide comprehensive eye exams and low vision evaluations for patients at the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center, many whom are Lighthouse employees.  The Low Vision Rehabilitation Center has very friendly staff members.  Daniel Espinosa, the Low Vision Clinic Manager, and Meloney Castro, the medical receptionist, are great to work with, and they both love working at the Lighthouse.

We are also fortunate to have four different low vision specialists who we get to work with during our rotation at the Lighthouse:  Dr. Nancy Amir, Dr. Christopher Choat, Dr. Stephanie Schmiedecke, and Dr. Matt Valdes.

Each doctor has many years of experience in low vision, and I find it very helpful to learn from each doctor’s different style of practicing and teaching.

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Low vision is often an overlooked specialty of optometry, but it can definitely be a rewarding field of practice.  My classmate and I recently saw a patient who was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration several decades ago.

He had canceled his newspaper subscription since he was no longer able to read it.  After a low vision evaluation, my classmate and I were able to prescribe the patient a pair of spectacle microscopes in order to read newspaper print comfortably again.  The patient was so ecstatic when he was able to read a newspaper that he thanked us profusely.  This was definitely one of my highlights as an optometry student.

One important thing that I have learned is that although optometrists may not be interested in providing low vision services, they should be aware of the benefits of such services and refer to low vision specialists when appropriate.  I have heard several patients remark on how they wish someone had told them about low vision services sooner and how happy they are to find that such services exist.

The San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind is a great organization, and I am glad that I get to rotate through the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center.

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