Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Kara Heying.  Dr. Heying practices in Cedar Rapids, IA.  She presently serves as a member of COVD’s Board of Directors.

I had the opportunity recently to learn more about visual science through the eyes of Fighter Pilots – specifically though the eyes of the Blue Angels.  How did I get the honor of spending the day filming, interviewing and learning from these decorated Lieutenants?  It all began over 2 years ago when a connection was made in my community between a team of creative producers and some local physicians/scientists.  The production team was working together for science, developing a blended experience between film and physical experiment geared for kids.  The project developed a name called the “Science of Thrill,” and the details and scope of the project continued to expand over time. Today it is projected to end with a multi-episode series teamed with middle school science curriculum and supported by the National Science Foundation.

The Orange County Choppers was the first group of “thrill seekers” to be involved in the project.  Since that time additional Thrill Seeking Sports, Technology and Motor/Aviation participants have also become involved.

I was brought in as the first vision expert because the co-producer had a daughter who was a patient of mine and had recently completed vision therapy for the remediation of her visual motor, visual spatial and binocular vision dysfunctions.  Her daughter had a long standing diagnosis of dyslexia and had been working hard with her school and teachers to utilize multi-sensory instruction to allow her success in learning.  Through these approaches she had become a very good reader and excellent student.  However, despite all her customized learning strategies she continued to lose her place as she read and struggled to copy from across the room.  She was also very tired by the end of the school day, and although she was involved in sports her coordination was questionable.  By adding vision therapy, her compromised visual system was able to be improved and give her even further academic and sports success.  She noted and expressed to her Mom that she felt improvements in tracking (or keeping her place while reading), speed of reading and experienced less fatigue in school.  By the end of vision therapy her Mom had a whole new appreciation for vision and the important role it played in learning, performance and behaviors.

As the need for expert advice behind this Science of Thrill project developed, the production team decided they wanted some interpretation on the visual system.  They needed an eye doctor!  Fortunately, due to this co-producers experience with her daughter’s vision therapy, they realized that my credentialing made me the perfect local fit.  They wanted information about the visual system and its integration with the body and mind.  My job became to help them understand the large variety of ways in which vision is involved in these thrilling experiences.  They didn’t just want to understand the physiology and mechanics of the eye; they wanted to understand how the brain and eyes were connected!

After some time it became clear that the possibilities for this project were endless.  I decided to approach the producers with a request for further support and involvement from my network of vision experts in Developmental Optometry.  I informed them of the association within Optometry called COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) which is dedicated to helping Optometrists gain access to education in this specialty field and which also provides the public knowledge to ensure access to appropriate care.  In addition we wanted COVD to be the voice of the vision expertise involved in the project. Thus, the collaboration between COVD (College of Optometrists in Vision Development) and the Science of Thrill was established.  At this point we have a task force created within COVD to help develop more visual connections for the Science of Thrill episodes.

I have been fortunate to be invited to participate in this exciting project called the Science of Thrill, and I feel we within Developmental Optometry have been given an opportunity to reach the public in yet another way.  Creating numerous avenues to reach people about the importance between vision, learning and function is certainly one of our goals within COVD.  As doctors and specifically as Developmental Optometrists we know our work will never be complete, but we can continue to close the gap of confusion between vision and learning by expanding awareness so children and adults don’t suffer with treatable visual conditions.  We all know that there is a lot of visual science within Thrill – so I along with your COVD Science of Thrill task force will work to represent COVD and inform the pubic of the extensive science of vision within “Thrill”.