Seeing the value of hands-on training
Berkeley faculty, optometry residents get best training possible in low vision clinic

By Sarah Yang, Public Affairs

10 July 2002 | Marcie McIntire noticed that her 5-year-old son, Liam, would often close one of his eyes and tilt his head when talking to her. It wasn’t until optometrists at Berkeley examined Liam’s eyes at school that she understood his vision problems.

“They saw that he was sensitive to light, and that he does that head tilt because it helps him orient himself,” said McIntire, who lives in Fremont. Liam was diagnosed at age 2 with cortical vision impairment, a condition characterized by the brain’s inability to consistently understand input from the eyes. “They also corrected the astigmatism on his glasses, which was way off by 180 degrees,” she said.

The university’s School of Optometry has been operating one of the few low vision clinics in the state for more than 40 years, but last May, it expanded services to include an outreach clinic at the California School for the Blind in Fremont. One year after the program began, Berkeley optometrists have conducted comprehensive eye exams for more than 80 students.

“Unfortunately, it can be hard for some families who live far away to make it to our clinic in Berkeley. We saw an opportunity to bring this care to the patients,” said Dr. Edward Revelli, associate dean of clinical affairs at the School of Optometry. Revelli worked with administrators at the school for the blind to launch the program.

Every other Wednesday during the academic school year, low vision specialists Dr. A. Mika Moy, assistant clinical professor of optometry, and Dr. Robert Greer, associate clinical professor of optometry, visit the school. Exams for each patient typically last 90 minutes. The students are examined by the two clinicians and a resident optometrist from campus.

“Many of the students here have multiple disabilities that are associated with their visual impairment, and many doctors have not had experience with these children,” said June Waugh, low vision services coordinator at the school for the blind. “What Robert and Mika have been able to give us is practical understanding of how the children see. They’ve been wonderful answering our questions and sharing our concerns.”

While watching the optometrists conduct the eye exams, it becomes clear that they are able to relate to their young patients. Both the students and parents have noticed.

“I was feeling kind of weird having my eyes out, and my good friend Robert (Greer) helped me get over that fear,” said Justin Kennedy, 17, who was treated in February for an eye infection that required removal of his prosthetic eyes.

That extra motivation helped convince Justin to remove the eyes and allow the doctors to diagnose and treat the infection. After Greer smoothed out the scratches in the prosthetic eye that had been the source of irritation, he told Justin his eyes now looked shiny just in time for that night’s Valentine’s Day dance.

Justin’s reaction? “It was a great success,” said Justin. “I took my girlfriend with me to the dance, and even kissed her on the dance floor.”

McIntire, Liam’s mother, said the optometrists took extra time to explain her son’s condition to her. “At this clinic, they really gave me a lot of information about Liam’s impairment and how he functions, which has been really helpful because no one has ever really done that before,” she said.

Greer explained the secret. “We could see that Justin had an infection, so to persuade him to take the eyes out, we asked him to show us how to remove and insert prosthetic eyes,” said Greer.

There are few eye care professionals available who have the expertise and experience to thoroughly examine low vision patients, and fortunately, Berkeley’s partnership with the California School for the Blind has been mutually beneficial, Revelli noted. The school exposes faculty and optometry residents to a relatively large pool of patients, some with rare conditions they might otherwise never encounter.

“This may change the future of a lot of our graduates who come out of the low vision program,” he said.


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