UH eye doctor assists veterans

A University Eye Institute pediatric optometrist is teaming up with The Institute for Rehabilitation Research Foundation, Project Victory and Memorial Herman Hospital to help veterans who suffered traumatic brain injuries during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Project Victory, a free brain-injury rehabilitation program, is the only one of its kind that helps veterans successfully resume community life and recover from afflictions.

Project Victory is a $3 million project funded by a grant received from the Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, which is part of the California Community Foundation.

Suzanne Wickum, a clinical associate professor at the College of Optometry and director of its Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Service, began working with TIRR in 1995. She said she enjoys treating veterans with vision disorders because she knows what to look for.

‘Many people with traumatic brain injuries cannot speak like they did before, so when they go to a normal eye doctor for an exam, the staff may be at a loss,’ Wickum said. ‘Coming from pediatrics, we are skilled at working with infants and toddlers who can’t tell us anything, so the exam techniques translate.’

Wickum said many of her patients have eye muscle coordination disorder, which can be remedied through eye exercises. Most of the symptoms often missed by optometrists are eye coordination, up-close focusing and accommodation problems.

‘A lot of these guys have already had military eye exams and some things have been missed,’ Wickum said. ‘A study in 2006 found that 26 percent of soldiers had vision problems associated with brain injuries that had been overlooked.’

Project Victory program manager Shawn Brossart said he is happy with the Wickum’s work. He has seen vast improvements in veterans she has treated.

‘We’ve been amazed at the improvements in our clients after care from Dr. Wickum and the UH clinic,’ Brossart said. ‘Dr. Wickum and the UH clinic contribute in a unique way to the success injured military accomplish in the Project Victory program.’

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