As Alex Coppard clowns his way through a set of visual therapy exercises, optometrist Dr. Cam McCrodan points to a set of squiggly lines on the computer.
The optometrist is measuring Alex’s vision pattern, as he has throughout most of 2015. The lines are nonsense to a layman but show signs of a strong reading ability.
During intervals of the test, however, Alex’s imagination draws the conversation away from the task at hand, as an 11-year-old’s will. It’s just another sign that the vision therapy is working, McCrodan said.
When Alex, from Saanich, first came to McCrodan’s office he was suffering greatly from two successive concussions that happened six months apart in 2014 and 2015.
“You should have seen Alex eight months ago, he was sitting still, very quiet, a different kid,” McCrodan said. “You can see his eyes are tracking very well [on the computer], at a level much higher than a typical 11-year-old, much better than earlier this year.”
Vision therapy has retrained Alex’s eyes, something his mom Andrea credits for curing him from concussion symptoms. Alex is also back to being a regular, happy kid, something he wasn’t in the first half of 2015.
“Vision therapy is probably going to be the biggest thing to come to eye care, and concussion rehabilitation, that we will see,” McCrodan said. “The U.S. is way ahead of us on this one, and so are many other places.”
Newer research is showing vision is one of the most impacted things after a concussion. It can affect balance, dizziness, nausea, reading speed/comprehension, light sensitivity, and general fogginess and fatigue.
McCrodan is ahead of the curve with a downtown clinic that has a back room dedicated to visual therapy exercises. It’s the size of a small gymnasium, outfitted with a series of digital and physical instruments such as a giant touch screen to play a digital version of whack-a-mole.
“There are many pro sports leagues now using the visual testing to measure when athletes are actually healed and ready to get back into the game,” McCrodan said.
McCrodan, also a Saanich resident, is working to implement those things with local charity start-up The Visual Process.
As for Alex, McCrodan suggests he may actually be ready for contact but there’s no sense in risking it, and endorses non-contact sports over hockey, football or even soccer.
Alex first suffered a concussion in September 2014, when he slipped off the chin-up bar. Then in March of this year he suffered another one during a game of tag at recess. In the latter incident Alex’s head hit the ground, and led to immediate symptoms of double vision and migraine headaches, a severe case of second-impact syndrome.
“He couldn’t see properly, and he used to have this beautiful printing, but all of a sudden he couldn’t get his words to align, it was serious,” said Alex’s mom Andrea.
In second-impact syndrome, the head suffers another injury before the first concussion has fully healed, and it can make things exponentially worse.
Initially, the second concussion forced Alex into the typical cocoon therapy of rest, and time spent in a dark room. But after Andrea noticed his difficulties with writing, she took Alex to an optometrist who referred them to McCrodan.
Alex was outfitted with what Andrea calls “concussion glasses,” or prism prescription, which immediately ended Alex’s constant headaches and migraines. Then came five months, six days a week, of exercises, mostly at home. It restored Alex’s vision, hand-eye and physical co-ordination, and his quality of life.
This fall Alex has taken up tennis, his first sport in over a year. Because of the dedicated therapy treatment he did this fall he may have better hand-eye co-ordination than he did prior to the concussions.
If they hadn’t started on the visual therapy, it’s highly likely Alex would still be suffering.
“I see people five years after a head injury/concussion, who are still unable to work through school, or have full-time employment due to their visual symptoms,” McCrodan said.