“It honestly felt like a dream”— How an Avid Explorer Got to See the World Again

Just six months ago, Alan Vosko experienced what he described as “as close to a miracle as I could ever imagine.” After losing all of his sight in his left eye and much of it in his right, he was again able to see the sunsets and palms trees and his niece’s hockey games– blessings he never thought he’d enjoy again.

Alan’s journey with vision loss is a tale of resilience and strength. It all started in his thirties when he walked into a branch causing an injury-induced (traumatic) cataract. He received cataract surgery in that eye, only to develop a cataract in his other eye soon after. Many surgeries later, both of his corneas (the clear window at the front of the eye) began to degrade- making him feel as if he was looking through a frosted window. On another ‘heavy’ day, Alan learned that he had pancreatic cancer. Thankfully now cancer-free after chemotherapy and radiation, Alan was now blind in his left eye and could only see 20/100 with his right.

“I lost a lot of my independence like not being able to drive that was pretty crushing,” Alan shared, poignantly. “It affects everything I do and the biggest was not being able to travel like I used to. I used to snorkel, bike, or hike and explore the national parks or travel in Europe. My wife Sue and I loved to immerse ourselves in the cultures we visited. For two years I had to either not live my life in the way I once could, or just curl up in a ball.”

But Alan and Sue never gave up searching for a solution to regain his sight. They went from doctor to doctor and he underwent six eye operations! But it wasn’t until he was referred to a low vision specialist— an optometrist specializing in treating the visually impaired, that his vision and his life began a new chapter.

“I’ll never forget the moment I was tested and fitted for the Ocutech bioptics glasses— everything was instantly in focus, I could see again. After two years of feeling so blind, it honestly felt like a dream had come true,” Alan reminisced.

Alan was prescribed special bioptic telescope eyeglasses designed for individuals with visual impairments.  Alan’s version, called the Ocutech VES Explorer, includes a miniature telescope that magnifies what the person sees, just like binoculars.  Alan feels a kinship to his new bioptic as they let him travel and explore the world again just like he used to. “They’ve given me my life back” he says. His bioptic glasses give Alan close to 20/20 vision and although he can’t prove it, he truly feels as though the bioptics have “actually improved and strengthened” his overall vision.

Since receiving his bioptic, Alan says he has regained much of his independence. He is even driving again as Michigan is one of 47 states that allow visually impaired individuals to obtain a special driver’s license for bioptic users. To get his bioptic license he had to comply with the state’s special requirements and testing but he said it was all worth it.

And he can go back to being the avid fisherman he once was. One of his favorite stories is catching the last of his “bucket-list fish” because he was actually able to see it jump out of the water with his bioptic. He can again watch his niece play hockey, “she’s going to be a superstar one day,” he grinned. “I used to have to ask my wife to narrate the game for me, but now I can see it all myself- see her master that puck— and that’s all I can really ask for.”

Alan is also traveling the world again and is seeing it for himself. He recalls that for the two years when he was so severely visually impaired, he would go to Hawaii or Florida with Sue and wonder what the sunset actually looked like, having only memories of what he could no longer see. They recently went back to their favorite spot to watch the sunset, and there it was: he could see the pink hues and bright colors, just as wonderful as ever!

“My Ocutech bioptic has been my first miracle, but the second is that it has allowed me to live the life I want to live again,” Alan said, smiling. “People used to always ask me, ‘can you see that?’ and the best thing is now I can finally tell them ‘yes! I can’.”

For more information about Ocutech bioptics consult your low vision specialist or visit www.ocutech.com. Ocutech offers a self-assessment questionnaire that will be reviewed by their experts and which provides a personal report about the likelihood that you might be a successful candidate for an Ocutech bioptic.  Visit https://ocutech.com/self-assessment-form/ to complete it.

 

“They’re an Eye-Changer, Quite Literally”— How an Ocutech Bioptic changed the life of a new father.

When Luis Angel Aponte’s daughter was born, there were new realities he and his wife knew they would have to face together. Most of them are common to all new parents, but some were especially relevant to Angel and his wife, Nicole.

Born with a visual impairment due to cataracts and nystagmus, Luis knew that sitting behind the wheel of a car, driving his daughter to school, or play-dates, or family trips would not be part of his parental ‘job-description.’ “Sadly, driving because of my low vision was never something I had ever imagined myself doing,” he said. Many of what he saw as his ‘father-daughter’ roles would be the responsibility of his incredibly loving and supportive wife.

But with special telescopic glasses designed for individuals with visual impairments, Luis’ world has never been the same. Luis had put his faith into action and began to research what new technology was available to support his vision issues. In only a few Google searches he discovered Ocutech bioptic telescopes which held the potential for him to not only see better but also possibly make him eligible to get a driver’s license. He immediately contacted his low vision specialist, Dr. Andrea Zimmerman, at the Lighthouse-Guild Low Vision Clinic in New York City, and what happened next has changed his life!

Dr. Zimmerman prescribed an Ocutech VES-Explorer Bioptic telescope, a miniature telescope attached to eyeglasses that magnifies the image, just like binoculars, and which improved Luis’ vision to almost 20/20 when looking through it. “My new bioptics are so amazing, it can’t be put into words— they’re an eye changer, quite literally,” Luis passionately shared. “To everyone who has a visual impairment, I hope they know that they just have to push through, to stay positive, and to remind themselves there may be a way– that way, for me, was Ocutech.”

“A bioptic can be so impactful for individuals with vision impairments. Seeing at a distance can be important both emotionally as well as for one’s independence” said Dr. Zimmerman. “We’re thrilled that they have been so helpful for Luis.”

“Going from having no driver’s license because I could hardly see, to having almost 20/20 vision with my bioptic is huge,” Luis said. “When we realized that getting my driver’s license was possible, my wife and I looked at each other and thought… Not only would I actually be able to drive my daughter one day, but I’d also be able to teach her how to drive. That’s a reality I never thought I’d have. It brings a smile to my face. My Ocutech is what made it happen.”

Until now, not being able to see much at all made him need to learn how to cope with those challenges. He had to accept needing extra help from his teachers in school, needing his friends to describe what was going on around him, and leaning on his wife to support him through his almost daily frustrations with his eyesight. But now Luis cannot believe how much more of the world he can see with his bioptic– including his baby daughter Delilah’s smiles and giggles, and seeing everything going on in the park where she plays. “I feel so much more connected to her and my wife than I ever thought possible,” he said.

“I’ll never forget how my wife once stood across the street and asked if I could see her and I said no— and how she promised me she’ll do everything she could to show me her world,” Luis fondly remembered. “Now, with these amazing glasses, I can see my wife across the street— I can see her world— and that feeling is just indescribable… and exciting.” It also means being able to drive Delilah, his family and himself anywhere they want to go: his new freedom and new level of independence, he says, is exhilarating.

For more information about Ocutech bioptics and to determine whether you might be a promising candidate visit www.ocutech.com. Complete the self-assessment form at https://ocutech.com/self-assessment-form/ to receive a reply from Ocutech’s experts about your special situation.

Henry Greene to lead The Vision Council’s Low Vision Division

Ocutech co-founder and President, Henry Greene, OD, FAAO, has been elected in-coming chair of the Low Vision Division of The Vision Council (sponsor of Vision Expo East and West). His 2-year term begins in late January 2022. 

“I am honored to have been chosen to lead the Low Vision Division during what promises to be a very exciting time for the vision rehabilitation specialty.  I take over the reins from outgoing chair, Richard Tapping, who has lead the division during the many challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.”

As the first optometrist to take on this role, Dr. Greene plans to address issues that he feels will be helpful for all members of the low vision care community. 

One of the most common refrains that low vision providers hear is ‘How come no one has told me about low vision care until now?’

Addressing this lack of awareness will guide our efforts during Dr. Greene’s term in office.  Specifically the LVD goals will include:

  • Increasing awareness of low vision care on a national basis
  • Creating a national directory of low vision care providers
  • Improving and facilitating methods for the referral of patients for low vision care

To stay updated on the LVD initiatives and to express your potential interest to join a national directory of low vision care providers click here.

https://thevisioncouncil.org/members/low-vision-prescriber-network

“The Vision Council is thrilled to welcome Dr. Greene into the Chair role for the Low Vision Division. From fostering a high level of engagement between members and division leadership to raising awareness of low vision rehabilitation among eyecare providers as well as visually impaired consumers and their caregivers, Dr. Greene will play a key role in moving the division forward,” said Ashley Mills, CEO of The Vision Council.

When should I be considering an Ocutech Bioptic for my patient?

I’m frequently asked what makes me consider a bioptic for an individual patient. So, I’ve written a short blog post to describe my approach. There are several factors to explore when considering the appropriateness of an Ocutech bioptic for an individual. Here’s a list of factors you may choose to consider.

1. Vision

a. BCVA in the better-seeing eye (hopefully the dominant eye) is 20/300 or better

b. Field of view of at least 40 degrees diameter with regular glasses if used

c. Absence of hemianopsia

2. The prospective patient seeks to improve their distance and/or midrange vision for activities that might include:

a. Independent travel

b. Classroom

c. Signage

d. Shopping

e. Social engagement

f. Table/desk activities

g. Computer screens

h. Driving

i. Music

j. Theater/movies

k. Museums/galleries

l. Hiking

m. Gardening

3. They have promising manual dexterity and cognitive status

4. They have a need for hands-free visual support

5. Focusing options are based upon working distance considerations

a. Fixed focus (perhaps with reading caps) or Manual focus if their needs are at fixed distances  with minimal need to refocus the device

b. Autofocusing bioptic if they have a range of varying and continuous working distances

Meet Aaron Paulk, a visually impaired competitive surfer.

His Ocutech bioptic low vision aid helped make it happen!

“My first dream as a kid was to be a US Navy Seal.” Says Aaron Paulk. “I enlisted in the Navy halfway through my senior year in high school in Indiana. Things were going along fine until my physical in boot camp found that I was losing vision due to a juvenile type of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s disease. That totally derailed all my plans as I was no longer eligible to join the navy or any service. I lost my dream, my vision, and my motivation at age 17 all at once. It was one of my hardest periods emotionally.”

“I lost my license and my independence,” he says. “And then I found Dr. Laura Windsor, my low vision specialist. She prescribed an Ocutech bioptic telescope—a miniature telescope built into eyeglasses that provide me with near-normal vision–and my life changed forever. It allowed me to follow my second dream, to be a surfer living in Hawaii, and I just placed third in the 2021 World Parasurfing Championships held in California December 7-11.

“Gosh where do I start with how my Ocutech bioptic has changed my life?” he says.  “I have been able to regain my independence and drive, which has helped me train harder and harder to now be one of the best visually impaired competitive surfers in the world.  Before Ocutech I couldn’t even see the surf in the ocean before I got in, but now I can check the surf and watch it through my Ocutech and get an idea of how the waves are breaking.  I wear my Ocutech at all competition events to have the ability to watch the competition and prepare for my heats.” 

Aaron wants to share his enthusiasm for using his bioptic with others. “The impact of my Ocutech has been so dramatic for me,” he says, “and I’m eager to do what I can to help inspire other people with visual impairments to adopt such great technology to help them follow their passions and achieve their dreams.”

Bioptic Driving: The challenge of dealing with the state’s driver licensing office.

One of the great motivators for individuals to pursue bioptics is that they may become eligible to drive. 

In 2013 the State of North Carolina, my home state, passed its bioptic driving law that would enable some visually impaired individuals to be eligible to obtain a driver’s license.  Soon afterward I was invited to make a presentation to the state’s DMV Medical Board to explain what bioptics were all about and how they are used for driving (seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it?).  While I had expected to give a 30 minute presentation, the meeting lasted 2 hours and discussions explored a range of subjects related to vision and driving.

Soon after, I was invited to join the DMV Medical Review Board where I became involved not only in reviewing and ruling on DMV actions regarding individuals who were deemed inappropriate for licensure based upon a range of issues including vision, diabetic control, seizure disorders, substance abuse, cognitive status, behavioral issues and high accident rate.  In fact, the majority of the cases I was involved in reviewing were not vision-related at all.

In addition to my role examining the cases of individual drivers, I became involved in reviewing and revising the DMV’s vision guidelines including developing the process for licensing bioptic drivers. After several months of exploring the range of options, including meetings with stakeholders, we developed the methods and process that would be used for evaluating drivers. These were boiled down to be as easily administrable as possible. But there are 100 counties in the state, and many hundreds of DMV examiners, and more often than not, the examiner was unlikely to have previously encountered a bioptic driver. In addition, feedback I received from my own patients when they pursued their bioptic driver’s license, was that the DMV examiner had little idea how to perform vision tests on these individuals nor how to evaluate their on-road driving skills.

As a result of these issues, and as part of my role on the DMV Medical Board, I wrote a whitepaper backgrounder both for my NC Medical Board colleagues (one of whom was an ophthalmologist, while the others were neurologists, geriatricians, and a physiatrist) and for the DMV examiners in the field.

A DMV examiners guide to assessing a bioptic driver

In addition, as part of my role at Ocutech, I created three information brochures including:

I’m pleased to share this information with the low vision provider community.  I hope that this information is helpful and I invite you to share it as you see fit to help promote an effective understanding of how bioptics may enable visually impaired individuals to drive.

An alternate approach to defining vision. The Visual Radius and the Social Range

Quite often patients will ask what 20/20 means.  The explanation of the Snellen visual acuity fraction doesn’t often satisfy their need to understand.  A patient once mentioned that with her reduced vision from macular degeneration, the furthest she could see was to the end of her arm.  Having just received a 4 power bioptic telescope, she remarked that it in effect it made her arm 4 times longer.  She no longer needed to walk up so close to see her friends and family, read signs, watch TV, and shop at the supermarket. 

Her experience suggests an alternate way to define distance vision—the furthest distance one can see an object of regard, which we can call the “Visual Radius.”  There is also a range of distances in which we engage in our normal day-to-day activities, often from 3-20 feet, which we can call the “Social Range.”  Getting closer than 3 feet to recognize an individual is considered socially aggressive behavior—we’re invading their personal space. They don’t feel comfortable having it done to them, and we don’t feel comfortable doing it.  Rooms are rarely bigger than 20 feet, so if we can see to the far end of a room, we can pretty much see what we need to see to be socially engaged.

So, for many situations, the goal in prescribing telescopic low vision aids for better distance seeing might be to extend the “Visual Radius” far enough in to the “Social Range” to be helpful for the individual.  If, for instance, we can only see faces as far as 4 feet away, a 4 power telescope will extend the distance to 16 feet, far enough into the social range to be helpful.  If, in another example, one can only see a face from 1 foot away, a 4x telescope would only extend the “Visual Radius” to 4 feet– insufficient to see far enough into the “Social Range” to provide a functional benefit.

So, knowing the distance at which an individual can normally see well, can offer a method for us to describe visual acuity in functional terms in a way that the patient can appreciate.  It can also be helpful in determining the proper telescope power needed to be helpful to an individual.

Bioptic Driving: The challenge of dealing with the state’s driver licensing office

By Henry A Greene, OD, FAAO

One of the great motivators for individuals to pursue bioptics is that they may become eligible to drive. 

In 2013 the State of North Carolina, my home state, passed its bioptic driving law that would enable some visually impaired individuals to be eligible to obtain a driver’s license.  Soon afterward I was invited to make a presentation to the state’s DMV Medical Board to explain what bioptics were all about and how they are used for driving (seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it?).  While I had expected to give a 30 minute presentation, the meeting lasted 2 hours and discussions explored a range of subjects related to vision and driving.

Soon after, I was invited to join the DMV Medical Review Board where I became involved not only in reviewing and ruling on DMV actions regarding individuals who were deemed inappropriate for licensure based upon a range of issues including vision, diabetic control, seizure disorders, substance abuse, cognitive status, behavioral issues and high accident rate.  In fact, the majority of the cases I was involved in reviewing were not vision-related at all.

In addition to my roll examining the cases of individual drivers, I became involved in reviewing and revising the DMV’s vision guidelines including developing the process for licensing bioptic drivers. After several months of exploring the range of options, including meetings with stakeholders, we developed the methods and process that would be used for evaluating drivers. These were boiled down to be as easily administrable as possible. But there are 100 counties in the state, and many hundreds of DMV examiners, and more often than not, the examiner was unlikely to have previously encountered a bioptic driver. In addition, feedback I received from my own patients when they pursued their bioptic driver’s license, was that the DMV examiner had little idea how to perform vision tests on these individuals nor how to evaluate their on-road driving skills.

As a result of these issues, and as part of my role on the DMV Medical Board, I wrote a whitepaper backgrounder both for my NC Medical Board colleagues (one of whom was an ophthalmologist, while the others were neurologists, geriatricians, and a physiatrist) and for the DMV examiners in the field. I wrote two versions of this backgrounder to share:

In addition, as part of my role at Ocutech, I created several information brochures including:

I’m pleased to share this information with the low vision provider community.  I hope that this information is helpful and I invite you to share it as you see fit to help promote an effective understanding of how bioptics may enable visually impaired individuals to drive. If you should have any questions, please email us at bioptics@Ocutech.com.

Approach patients with low vision on an individual basis (Featured in Optometry Times)

Low vision rehabilitation is a segment of optometry that lends itself to creativity in case management and approaches to help patients achieve their goals. As practitioners begin to establish a low vision practice, they will have the opportunity to provide value to their patients’ lives by developing solutions to achieve vocational, social, and daily living goals.
Continue reading –>

The benefits of bioptics for individuals with Albinism and Stargardt’s Disease

Individuals who are born with a visual impairment such as Albinism or who develop it in their younger years such as Stargardt’s Disease are disadvantaged in their ability to maximize their academic, occupational and social lives.

Distance vision is our SOCIAL SENSE. We use it to make eye contact, read body language, and to interact with the world around us.

While reading may be the first issue that visually impaired individuals will notice, it is not the only factor that will impact their lives, their personal potential, and even their happiness. Reduced distance vision reduces one’s independence and confines individuals both in their geographic area but also in their ability to increase their personal and economic opportunities. A low vision telescope magnifies the retinal image making things more visible and can provide near-normal visual acuity. When the telescope is attached to the top of eyeglasses, called a bioptic, the user can quickly, easily and conveniently alternate their vision between their normal vision

and that of the telescope, providing sharp vision when they need it.     The more natural the use of any device, the more readily it will be used. While a handheld telescope will also provide the same visual acuity, it is not nearly as convenient to use and as a result they are not used to nearly as great an amount or benefit, as is a bioptic telescope. New bioptic telescope designs are very much easier to fit and demonstrate.

No one wants to look unusual. New designs of bioptic telescopes, especially the Ocutech VES-Sport, provide a modern hi-tech appearance making them much more acceptable to wear. The development of high-tech digital devices like the Google-Glass make modern-looking devices attached to eyeglasses much more common around the world. While bioptic telescopes are more expensive than handheld monocular devices, the benefit they provide for the user’s schooling, work, travel, and social life, contributes very much more value to the user than the cost of the device itself. In the same way that we invest in our children’s education, we must also invest in the aids that enable these children to take full advantage of the educational programs provided to them.

Investing in bioptics at an early age gives individuals with visual impairment the capability to maximize opportunities and reach their full potential.