A Sit Down – with Robin Vreeland
This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Robin Vreeland
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I am an Optometric Vision Therapist at the Grand Stand Vision Development Center in Myrtle Beach, SC.
How did you first discover Developmental Optometry and where has your journey taken you?
In 1999, my 10 year old son, Jimmy, went to Behavioral Optometrist, Dr. Mark Dean. I learned that he had Amblyopia, Anisometropia and was experiencing Diplopia. It broke my heart that as his mom I had not realized he was seeing double. No wonder he couldn’t hit the ball! At that time, he was also getting labeled as ADHD & ODD. Again, no wonder why he was acting out in school. It was just too overwhelming for him! Dr. Dean prescribed vision therapy. However, his therapist had just moved away and he was without at that time. Of course, being a lioness protecting her cub, I wanted to know how my son could start VT right away. I was not interested in a full-time position at that time because I was very involved with my boys, their activities and being a strong advocate for the children via PTA at school. The doctor and I agreed that I would train as a part-time therapist and he would treat my son. Jimmy received his treatment. To this day, he is an avid reader and you would never imagine him as the hyperactive, defiant child that he was. Fast forward almost 15 years later and I am still a Vision Therapist with Dr. Dean while managing our practice and still a strong advocate for children in our community.
What was your career path prior to discovering Vision Therapy?
I was born and raised in New Jersey and attended a vocational high school. I graduated as a Dental Assistant. I worked for a dentist while I attended business school and received an AAS Degree and had completed the Professional Secretarial Program. I had a position waiting for me as a Legal Secretary for a managing partner in a law firm. I was an Executive Secretary for 4 years when I was promoted to Legal Administrator of our firm. I maintained that position for 6 years until my 2nd son was born and I realized the Nanny spent more time with my children then I did. At that time my husband and I decided to move to beautiful Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so I could be home with our boys. I became a Senior Executive Manager with the Tupperware Corp. and managed a team while giving demonstrations on a part-time basis for about 5 years. I do not have a background in education as many do. However, whether managing a law firm or a doctor’s office or speaking in front of 15 people to speaking as PTA president in front of 500, these life experiences have prepared me. I was shy in school but I would go from 0 to crazy in a heartbeat when I saw someone being bullied! I have always championed the underdog and still do.
You recently attended Dr. Bob Hohendorf’s class Clinical Curriculum VT/Visual Dysfunctions, hosted by OEP in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Can you tell us about it?
It was an intensive 5 day course I attended with our other therapist, Asheley Gregory. It is a structured format to provide therapy with a model that flows smoothly to produce better results for our patients. The grid used makes it much easier for planning the course of treatment while still being able to load or unload the procedures to meet the needs of our patients whether they are small children, adults, athletes or TBI/ABI patients and even those on the spectrum or having special needs.
It looks like the next course in Dr. Hohendorf’s series is in June and will cover Learning Related Vision Problems. Will you be attending?
Asheley and I will definitely be there. Dr. Dean has already taken 3 courses in the series and he will be taking the final one in December. We came home with so much valuable information. Our doctor shared his education with us after he attended the courses and we have been using this protocol for about 8 months. However, I feel it is so important to actually be at the course with other doctors and therapists and learning great ways to make the grid work for us. All therapists using this format should attend. I could not wait to get home and start right away. In fact, I tried the procedures the way Dr. Hohendorf demonstrated and there was a complete turn about for a 5 year-old boy we are working with. It was a joy to see him work through the process without having to chase him around the room. I look forward to taking all the courses offered in this series!
Certification for a Vision Therapist is a wonderful achievement, yet there are many fantastic Vision Therapists working who have not yet certified, yourself included. Is this in the cards for the future?
Well, I desperately wanted to become certified years ago when I first started attending COVD. However, my doctor was not a Fellow at the time so it was not a possibility for me. My doctor believes in education so we have attended many wonderful seminars and training opportunities including COVD each year with very impressive and caring doctors. About 5 years ago my doctor became a Fellow but I was quite happy just being me without the C in front of the OVT. It did not seem to affect our practice as it was still growing. However, about 2 years ago I hired Asheley as our Office Assistant. Soon I was confident that she would make a great therapist and began to train her. I know becoming certified is definitely in her future so I guess it will also become part of mine! I also know I will learn even more going through the certification process.
Often times the more experienced Vision Therapists, like yourself, will share in the idea of “the more I learn, the more I realize I have more to learn”. Where are you on this thought?
As my doctor likes to say “We are always learning.” The more I attend great training, the more I know my education is not over! People that believe they know everything just don’t know what they are missing!
Last August, your life took a pretty dramatic turn in the way of some medical news. Can you tell us about it?
I would be happy to share. I come from a large extended family so there aren’t many secrets! I landed in the hospital with intense pain in my stomach. A CT scan showed a bowel obstruction which according to my surgeon probably saved my life! I was in the hospital for 12 days and was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer. They removed a large mass, ileocecal valve, appendix, a foot of small intestine and 30 lymph nodes. I had a huge blood clot in my arm that kept me from going home sooner so they inserted a port in my chest while I was there to prepare me for the chemo I would be receiving when I got home. I had 12 treatments starting in September every other week until February. I was at the cancer center every week for blood work, Neupogen shots or treatment. My treatments lasted about 4 hours each time and a pump attached to my port would time release more medicine over 3 days. Then I would go back to have the pump removed. I was tired all the time and slept a lot. I had no energy or stamina. During the first week of each treatment, the chemicals affected my stomach, eating habits and even swallowing. I could not touch or drink anything cold. My port is still with me and will surgically be removed in a year and I see the doctor monthly. I also have neuropathy of the hands and feet which should diminish over time. Because my blood counts were so low, there was always risk of infection so I had to stay away from our patients and people in general. I was out of the office for 8 months. I would come in when the office was empty to do payroll and pay the bills, etc.
As you progressed through your treatment, you received some pretty incredible support from your doctor and coworkers, correct?
Oh my gosh, I have an amazing employer and staff! Dr. Dean was so supportive and encouraging to focus on my health and healing. I truly would not have handled the whole process as well as I did if I had been forced to punch a clock everyday! Asheley was thrown in head first when she had to take over all of our patients and help manage the office while using a new format for treating patients. Wow, she had a lot riding on her shoulders! Jennifer, our Office Assistant and Billing Specialist was fairly new at the time and had to learn how to sink or swim. They handled the task with their heads held high. We have wonderful staff and a caring environment for our patients. We are small but mighty!
Once your treatment was complete and your strength returned, how did it feel to return to the Vision Therapy room?
I was nervous about going back after being out of the therapy room for so long but it felt like yesterday and it seemed as if I hadn’t missed a beat. Now I am happy to be back with my patients while acquiring some new ones and feeling my way through our new protocol. I really do love my job and enjoy watching as new skills are implemented and owned by the patient. I love to see their smiling faces. We laugh a lot in our therapy room and I love to see the confidence building and the risks these patients take working out of their comfort zones to improve.
Feeling your absence last October at COVD’s Annual Meeting, some of your closest friends began to organize a surprise party to celebrate your birthday and your clean bill of health, which took place the first weekend of May in your home town. Can you tell us about the surprise and the weekend long celebration?
I was astounded to walk in the room and see my COVD friends smiling back at me! Wow!! I am a lucky girl and I count my blessings every day! Asheley helped make it all happen and she was very busy while keeping it a surprise. Dr. Dean paid for a personal chef for dinner for us and he paid for the groceries for the cookout we had the next night that my family also attended. Karen Danoski from New York made up t-shirts for us all to wear. Debbie Killion from New Jersey made beautiful candle holders for each of us to keep. Tom Headline & Ivette Huerta came all the way from California. You, Robert, came from Texas and Jessi Stevenson came from Ohio. Jennifer was busy getting Karen & Jessi back from the hospital after Karen fell & got hurt in the ocean the first night. Karen was a real trooper on crutches the whole weekend and Jessi took such good care of her. We played games and laughed until we ached. We went to our office and taught each other some great techniques to use in the therapy room. We drove around the park in golf carts and soaked up the sun. We played tourists for a while and came home to laugh some more. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend filled with many memorable moments captured in pictures and in our hearts!
Lastly, the Vision Therapy community has often referred to itself as a family, and this concept seems to have really enhanced itself for you in the several months. How important is that sense of family and community in your success, your patient’s success, and the success of VT patients around the world?
I have a family that loves me deeply and over the years I have been very fortunate to make wonderful friendships near and far. My COVD family from around the world kept up via Facebook and the love and support I had through this process was truly amazing! I have had great training at COVD but the friendships that I have made over the past 15 years will last a lifetime! I meet new people and make new friends every time I attend another course. The wealth of information I have access to from other doctors and therapists is invaluable and that translates to the success of my patients.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to my friend Robin for this interview. The surprise party Robin mentioned was six months in the making and was a fantastic success. We all were so excited to celebrate Robin’s new found health, and of course, her birthday. Robin is but one of the wonderful friends I’ve made in Developmental Optometry, and we are all thrilled with her recovery from cancer. Please join me in wishing Robin and her family the absolute best! 🙂