A Sit Down – with Dr. Marie Bodack
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 Dr. Marie Bodack
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
Currently, I serve as chief of pediatric primary care at the Southern College of Optometry. In that position I have administrative, didactic and clinical teaching responsibilities. I am instructor of record for the pediatrics course, taken by 2nd year students. Depending on the term, I work in the pediatrics and vision therapy clinics. Since 2013, I have served on the Board of Directors of COVD. Outside of that, I lecture nationally and internationally on developmental vision topics such as amblyopia, strabismus, vision therapy, learning related vision problems and pediatrics.
What led you to Developmental Optometry?
I was led to Developmental Optometry thorough the faculty at SUNY Optometry, where I attended optometry school. Although I was accepted to SUNY, it was with a contingency; I had to visit an optometrist. (Previously, I had only seen ophthalmologists for my eye care). Since, I attended Fairfield University in I spent a day at the vision therapy practice of Dr. Carl Gruning, who had an office in Fairfield and was a COVD member and future president. I was surprised to learn that optometry was more than just glasses and there were many other types of vision problems that I could help fix. At SUNY, I was taught by many of the greats of developmental optometry, Dr. Marty Birnbaum, Dr. Ken Cuiffreda, Dr. Gruning, Dr. Len Press, Dr. Shelly Mozlin and Dr. Harold Solan. I used textbooks by many of these same people and one by Dr. Barry Tannen (who now serves on the Board with me). Through these classes, I started to develop an interest in pediatrics and vision therapy.
Because of my experiences at SUNY, I knew I wanted to do a residency in pediatrics and vision therapy/binocular vision but wanted to experience a different clinical setting, so I went to Pennsylvania College of Optometry where I worked with Dr. Mitch Scheiman. After my residency I came back on staff at SUNY. As a new faculty, I worked in different clinics including a city hospital, pediatrics, adult primary care and vision therapy – so I did a little bit of everything, including private practice on my day “off” from SUNY.
How did you come to find your current position as Chief of the Pediatric Primary Care Department, or better said, how did it find you?
In 2006, I moved away from New York to work at a children’s hospital where I thought I would be able to start some vision therapy. Unfortunately, after a few years there I realized that a vision therapy clinic would not materialize so I started to look for another job. I had been involved in COVD and would run into Dr. Dave Damari, who was president of COVD. Through casual conversations he knew I was looking for a job and would tell me that I could come work at SCO (Southern College of Optometry). I never really thought seriously about moving farther away from home; I really wanted to go back to the Northeast. One day Dave called and said he needed to talk to me – I thought he wanted to talk about COVD stuff but he mentioned that Southern College of Optometry was looking for a Chief of Pediatric Primary Care and he thought I would be a good fit. I remember telling him that “I really don’t want to move farther west – the Mississippi River would be as far west as I would go.” (I knew that Memphis was on the east coast of the River). I remember that he told me that “You can’t get any farther west than Memphis without going into the Mississippi.” So on his urging, I applied and then interviewed for the position and realized that I think it would be a good fit with me too. I started at the College in November of 2013.
What can you tell us about the InfantSEE program?
Infant SEE is a public health program run under Optometry Cares – the AOA Foundation of the American Optometric Association. It provides a no- cost assessment of infants aged 6-12 months. Parents can go online to find a provider who participates in the program. The doctor will take a birth and medical history of the child and assess the child’s level of vision, binocularity (eyes working together), eye movements, refractive error (need for glasses) and eye health. The program launched in 2005 and there have been over 100,000 babies seen. Dr. Glen Steele, who has worked at SCO for 45 years and who works with me, is the current chair of InfantSEE.
Assuming a child has an eye examination before their first birthday, what types of conditions or diagnoses will the doctor check for?
Unfortunately, many parents do not bring infants in for eye examinations unless they perceive a problem. With infants, doctors check for problems that could affect a child’s development. Parents don’t realize that much of early development involves vision: children crawl and look around, they reach for things, they look at faces. In many ways, vision guides development – in that by moving through the environment and visually exploring, we learn about it. So, optometrists will look for problems such as a large refractive error which could affect a child’s visual acuity, asymmetric refractive error or strabismus – conditions which could cause amblyopia and affect a child’s visual acuity and depth perception. Doctors will also look for pathology. Although pathology is not common in infants, some conditions, such as retinoblastoma, could be sight or life threatening. Most commonly retinoblastoma presents as a white pupil, so if the parents think the pupil is white, the child should get an eye exam. Studies are also finding that poor looking behavior in an infant may be an early sign of autism, so doctors will look at an infant’s visual responses to different stimuli.
When taking their child to an InfantSee provider, what types of questions should a parent ask?
The biggest difficulty with infants is that sometimes parents bring them in for exams during nap times and the child gets cranky because he is not having his nap. Parents should ask an infant SEE provider what time of day the appointment will be scheduled, making sure to mention nap times. Optometrists who sign up to be an Infant SEE provider do so because they want to work with infants. In most cases, the exam will be normal and the doctor will want to see the child back in 1-2 years, which would not be covered under the InfantSEE program. If there is a concern, maybe something as mild as the child did not respond well because she was cranky, the doctor may want to see the infant back sooner. The doctor should explain about what was found in the exam in terms of the child’s visual responses, eye alignment, refractive error/need for glasses and health. Parents should be sure to ask about these areas and mention any concerns that they have. If a parent does not understand something, it is ok to ask. The biggest question I get is “how do you know that she does not need glasses if she can’t talk” and I explain during my exam that when I shine this light in the eye and put these lenses in front of the infant I can tell if glasses are needed.
Changing gears now, March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and many children and young adults suffer from Traumatic Brain Injuries every day. What are some preventative tips you might offer to parents to help prevent a serious head injury to their children?
The biggest tips for parents in preventing a head injury are education and protection. Children and parents should be aware that if the child has a head injury, he or she should be removed from play, even if the child denies any problems. Children should use also protective gear when playing sports – helmets for football, ATV riding, bicycling, and roller blading, to name a few. Studies have found that in children under the age of 4, playground injuries are the most common cause of head trauma. At playgrounds children should be supervised. With older children 14 and older, football is the most common cause of head injuries for boys, and soccer, the most common cause for girls. Sports are great for children but protection and caution is needed. Along the same lines, I recommend that children who play sports wear protective eyewear to prevent eye injuries.
If a parent suspects their child has suffered a head injury, even something considered minor, what plan of action do you recommend they follow?
First children with a suspected brain injury should be removed from play or stop the activity they were doing. In all states and the District of Columbia are “Return to Play” laws, where athletes with suspected concussions need to be removed from play and “cleared.” (A concussion is a type of head injury). Unfortunately, there is no one test to diagnose a concussion with 100% certainty, so school districts and sports teams use different assessment tools to assess whether or not a child has had a concussion. Parents can ask children questions “Where are you, what team are you playing, what were you doing, what day is it” to assess if a child is confused. Symptoms of a head injury include headaches, double vision, blurry vision, light sensitivity, forgetfulness, fatigue, and behavior changes. Unfortunately, some may not present until days later, but may persist for weeks. If there is a loss of consciousness, the parent should bring the child to an emergency room for an evaluation, including brain imaging. Children diagnosed with a concussion are treated with “brain rest” – 24-48 hours of doing nothing and then a gradual increase in activities for the next few days. I recommend erring on the side of caution when dealing with head injuries.
You currently sit on COVD’s Board of Directors. What led you to serve this organization in a leadership capacity?
I have been active in COVD since being on faculty at SUNY. Dr. Dave FitzGerald was a faculty member at SUNY when I started there and he encouraged me to get my FCOVD, reminding me about it every time I saw him. I went to my first COVD meeting in 1999 and did not know anyone other than SUNY people so honestly, I was not very excited about going back. Dr. Bob Byne, another SUNY faculty member, who was on the Board at the time, asked me about going to the 2000 meeting and I told him that I really did not know if I wanted to go because I felt “out of place” because I was a younger doctor. I remember he said to me give it another chance, so I did – and I have been going ever since. Over the years more and more young faculty and later students started attending the meeting. I started working on the Academic Services Committee, first as SUNY Faculty Liaison and when Dr. Ida Chung got on the Board of Directors, she recommended that I take over as Chair of the Academic Services Committee. This section works on student and resident events at the meeting, including student grants, a student-doctor mixer and student programs. I became very involved in this Committee and have enjoyed seeing more and more students at the Annual Meeting. Around the same time that I started on the path to becoming faculty at SCO, I was asked to join the Board of Directors of COVD.
Lastly, COVD’s Annual Meeting in coming up in April with this year’s installment taking place in Las Vegas, NV. Aside from you responsibilities as a board member, what are some of the aspects of the meeting that you really enjoy?
I can honestly say that I look forward to the COVD meeting. A lot of people say that attending the meeting is “like seeing family,” which sounds like something that people say but don’t mean. With COVD we really all are family. Over the years I have met many COVD members who I enjoy reconnecting with annually, or more often if I see them at other meetings. Of course, I enjoy the education and social events at COVD, but reconnecting with people, meeting new people, seeing former and current students who are excited by COVD are among the main reasons that I go to the meeting. And now, being on the Board keeps me busier than ever, but all the Board members – and the office staff are great to work with. I enjoy the “down time” we have at the meeting, when our work is done for the day and we all go out for dinner and conversation. It is a lot of fun.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Dr. Bodack for taking the time to complete this interview. As we can clearly see, Dr. Bodack is a thoughtful and passionate contributor to our profession. It was such a pleasure to learn more about her during the course of this interview! Please join me in wishing Dr. Bodack, her family and patient the absolute best! 🙂