A Sit Down – with Dr. Bob Sanet
This post appears as part of my Sit Down series. Candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Dr. Bob Sanet
For the benefit of our readers, can you describe how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
For 25 years, I maintained a private practice in Lemon Grove, CA specializing in Learning Related Vision Problems, Optometric Vision Therapy, Visual Rehabilitation and Sports Vision Therapy. Eventually I entered into a partnership with Dr. Carl Hillier and we practiced together very successfully for many years. Then, in a dramatic moment I got a calling that I needed to touch a million lives. I realized that there was no way to do this in my private practice. So I decided to sell my practice, passing it into the very competent and capable hands of Drs. Carl and Melissa Hillier who are continuing to do great work. Currently I am devoting all of my time, effort and energy to teaching others to do to work that I did so that I could reach many more people around the world. To date I have flown more than a million and a half miles, presented over 2,500 hours of continuing education in the USA and 5,000 hours in 14 different countries worldwide. I don’t have a definite count, but for sure I’ve presented seminars to more than 2,000 Optometrists. So, if each one helps 500 people in a better way because of attending the seminars, then I’ll have my million.
What can you share about your background and your history?
I had learning issues all throughout school and was placed in “special classes” from 7th grade until I graduated from High School. I had all of the usual symptoms of a child with a learning related vision problem – loss of place, word confusion, difficulty sustaining visual attention, difficulty with spelling, visual fatigue, poor reading comprehension and memory, etc., etc. At the time “special classes” included any child who didn’t fit in a regular classroom, so most kids had social and behavioral issues rather than, or in addition to, learning issues. I learned a lot in the special classes; but much of what I learned was not good and certainly not helpful academically, and I usually landed in detention after school 3-4 times/week.
I got into college only because the school had “open enrollment” which allowed anyone who graduated high school to attend the university. My first semester my GPA was a 1.6 and the second was a 1.9. Then came my automobile accident…
Your path into the world of Vision Therapy began from a very personal experience, and seems to continue fueling your passion. Can you explain?
This is a very long story! I’ll try to condense it as much as possible. Just before my 20th birthday I was involved in a very serious automobile accident. I sustained massive head trauma which included breaking ALL of the bones in my skull (with blowout fractures of both orbits, and in my left eye damage to the superior rectus muscle and the loss of my lower lid). In addition, I sustained brain damage in numerous areas, especially the frontal lobe. Every day for 10 days my parents were told that it would be my last and to make preparations for my funeral. After 10 days my parents were told that I would live, but that I would probably be severely cognitively impaired, and have a very passive personality. Those that know me well definitely understand how wrong their diagnosis and prognosis were.
During the next two years I underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries to put my head back together again. In addition, my left eye was suture patched to avoid corneal problems. After about 8 months when the sutures were removed, I measured 16 diopters of left hypertropia which was compensated for with prism which enabled me to fuse. I wore the Rx with 16 diopters of vertical prism for 5 years.
During the 5 years subsequent to my accident I was able to re-enter the University, complete my studies with an overall GPA of 2.08 and receive a degree in Biology. During this period of my life also experienced the Sixties in every way possible and I was very active in all types of political and social movements to try to change our country and the world.
As you can imagine, with my long hair and low GPA I was rejected by almost all of the Colleges of Optometry where I applied. But, one school, the Los Angeles College of Optometry, had two more spots than students who wanted to attend and I was accepted late, where I began my studies wearing the 16 diopters of vertical prism and with a significant reading disability. I struggled through my first year and then in my second year I heard a lecture by Dr. Donald Getz which changed my life. He spoke about Optometric Vision Training, and I was excited about the possibilities both for myself and what I might do in the future to help other people to change their lives. I asked Dr. Getz if I could come to his office and observe. He welcomed me with open arms, and after some months I began working for him one day/week after my classes.
A few months after hearing Dr. Getz speak I entered into an Optometric Vision Therapy program with a truly amazing and gifted Optometrist, Dr. Ralph Schrock. So, once a week I drove 2 ½ hours from Los Angeles to San Diego where I had a 1 hour VT session followed by working with a patient as a therapist. This was repeated 3 times so that I had 3 VT sessions and worked with 3 of Dr. Schrock’s patients during each day I was there. Afterward, I would go out to dinner with Dr. Schrock and discuss Optometry at length, sleep in his home, and then drive back to LA early the next morning to attend my classes in Optometry school.
The end result of my 10 month VT program was that I completely eliminated my hypertropia and all of the prism in my glasses. I measured orthophoria with no evidence of the hypertropia at all, and excellent stereopsis measuring 20 seconds of arc. But, the best part was that I could read easily, with excellent comprehension and without any of the visual symptoms that I had experienced previously.
If we were able to poll the doctors and vision therapists active today in Developmental Optometry today, and ask them simply who they look up to the most within our profession, a great number of them would answer “Dr. Sanet”. How does that make you feel?
I’m not sure that this is accurate. But, if even if it is partially accurate, then I feel both very satisfied and very humble. Certainly whenI put a lot of time and energy, my best effort, and all of my heart into something, then it is personally satisfying and very gratifying to know that my contribution toother’s lives is acknowledged and appreciated. However, when I think of all of the amazing Optometrists who have contributed so much, and in so many more ways than I have, then I feel humble that anyone at all could think of me in the way you describe.
If you were only able to give one piece of advice to young optometrists who have recently graduated and are looking to enter the world of Developmental Optometry, what might that be?
It’s difficult to be limited to only one. I’ve always believed in the adage that “the more you give, then the more you receive”. So, my best advice would be to find your passion, practice from the heart, and work hard to achieve your dreams. If you do this you will never lose your enthusiasm for your mission, you will find your joy in your work, and you will help many people to live happier and more productive lives.
A big part of our future growth involves honoring and understanding those who have walked the path before us. The Developmental Optometry family has lost some wonderful people who were both phenomenal clinicians and also phenomenal human beings. There are number of them, in particular, that you had crossed paths with on some significant level and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share a little bit about them:
Robert, it’s interesting that you ask this question because I always begin each of my seminars by thanking the many Optometrists who contributed so much to my life. It’s also important for the new generation of Optometrists to understand that those of us practicing today are standing on the shoulders of the pioneers and true giants of Optometry
- Amorita Treganza – My first boss and definitely my most demanding teacher in life. She taught me organization, discipline, and to give everything that I had to the patients who entrusted themselves to me for care.
- Donald Getz – The first person that I ever heard speak about Behavioral Optometry. He inspired me to begin to explore Behavioral Optometry, and he was my first role model. He and his wife Lynne generously and graciously opened up their house to me and to hundreds of other Optometrists. Don never tired of being a mentor, answering question after question, and helping so many of us get started on the right path. The first time I heard him speak he gave me advice that I still talk about today. He said that to be happy and completely satisfied in your profession you should have three things: you should truly love what you do, you should make money, and most importantly you should help your patients to have better lives and change the world. He said that Behavioral Optometry could give all three. And he was right!
- Ralph Schrock – My Optometrist, my mentor and my friend. An Optometric genius who contributed so much to me and who changed my life in many profound ways.
- Marjie Thompson – A true angel who walked on this earth. An amazing Optometric Vision Therapist whose dedication to our practice and to the patients that we served was unsurpassed. She started Parents Active for Vision Education (P.A.V.E.) and dedicated 40 hours/week of her own time plus a lot of her own money to make more people aware of Behavioral Optometry and VT. She did this just because it was the right thing to do.
I need to add a couple of names who are still with us to your list of people you asked about:
- Many others have passed, but fortunately many are with us and still making significant contributions to our profession: I would be remiss if I did not add the following names to my list. Space does not allow for me to describe how each one contributed, but all are all responsible in part for my professional and personal success in life: Drs. Nat Flax, Irwin Suchoff, Bob Kraskin, Arnie Sherman, Bob Byne, Len Press, Stan Evans, Ira Bernstein, Marty Birnbaum, Elliott Forrest, David Fitzgerald, Jeff Cooper, Izzy Greenwald, and many, many others.
Shifting gears a bit, let’s discuss your seminars. How did you come to the decision to create, organize, write, and teach your own seminar?
My lecturing career got started while I was attending a VT meeting in 1978 when I was 30 years old and just 4 years out of Optometry school. During the meeting Drs. Homer Hendrickson (then President of OEP) and Gerry Getman approached me with an offer to become one of the four OEP Graduate Clinical Seminar Lecturers (Drs. Getman, Streff, and Greenstein were the other three). I accepted their offer on “feeling” alone and without much thought or analysis – as I often do in my life. I then spent the next six months working hard and stressed out trying to figure out how I was going to present 12 hours of post-graduate lecture to other VT OD’s! I asked for and received support and counsel from many sources. My mentor Dr. Ralph Schrock gave me wonderful advice which still serves me well today. He told me: “Don’t try to impress people with things that you learned from books. People will soon discover the falseness in this approach. Just be yourself, speak from the heart, and always speak about what you really know and really do in your office. If you do this then you’ll do well.” Dr. Schrock was sooooo right!
The year-long 5-part PAVE-Sanet series of seminars that I am now presenting began with a request about 20 years ago from Drs. Beth Ballinger, Robyn Rakov and Julie Ryan. They asked me to present “private” seminars just for them and their VT staff. Their request was open-ended: “We want you to share everything you know, then tell us how many seminars it will take and how much it will cost and we’ll take it from there. Thus the series of seminars that I am now presenting was born.
What is the current status of your seminar, and if someone is interested, where might they find more information?
The seminars are going wonderfully. I have been sold out every year for the past 10 years. And, each year they are completely full earlier and earlier during the preceding year. The attendees benefit greatly from it being a complete series of seminars, with one building on the other and from the camaraderie and interaction that comes from having the same attendees at every seminar during the year.
The 2016 series of seminars was completely full by June 2015 and now there is a long list of those who want to attend but can’t because of space. The 2017 series of seminars already is about 30% full with people who have put down a deposit to confirm a place. Those interested more information and/or in attending the seminar series in 2017 series should contact: Linda Sanet: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your wife, Linda, is an incredible Vision Therapist, an incredible mentor, and incredible author, an incredible teacher, and an absolutely phenomenal human being. What has it meant to have someone as fantastic as Linda by your side both personally and professionally?
You have chosen the perfect words to describe Linda; “incredible” and “phenomenal”. Linda is kind, hard-working, thoughtful, loving and incredibly generous with her time and energy in supporting a huge number of people. And, I am extremely fortunate to be the recipient of her all of her wonderful qualities. There is no doubt at all in my mind that I owe much of my professional success and personal happiness to her. I am a very grateful and lucky man to have Linda as my partner in life!!!
Developmental Optometry has provided you a means for travelling the world, forging many wonderful friendships, and created a lifetime full of offering others hope of a better life. If you think back to the day you graduated optometry school, did you ever dream this is how things would end up?
Certainly when I entered Optometry school I had no idea at all. My past performance was one of learning problems, non-achievement, and insecurity in myself and my abilities. I had no role models in my life and I had no dreams. Everything, and I mean everything, changed after I discovered Behavioral Optometry, with all of the amazingly generous ODs who do this work, and most importantly when I participated in a VT program for myself. But, even then I never anticipated, expected, or desired to have the life I have lived. I am not someone who has a one year, five year, and ten year plan for life. It’s just not me. I have not made the important decisions in my life with decisions based on deep thought, planning or logic. Instead all of the important decisions in my life have been made on feeling, intuition, and with my heart. Importantly, I am always open to opportunity and, when I see a door opening and it feels right in my heart, then I walk through it. But, all of what has happened to me is still a wonderment to me- the insecure learning disabled kid who had no confidence and no dreams. Sometimes, when I step back to think about all that has happened, it seems as if I am reading a book or watching a movie of someone else’s life. I am so very grateful for all of the opportunities that have opened for me in my life, and I cherish all of the amazingly wonderful people I have met along the way.
On a personal note, you have had the single greatest impact on my life of any person I’ve ever met, outside of my own parents. There are personal lessons and clinical pearls that you offered me over ten years ago that are still quite impactful, even to this day, and I’m sure there are many others in the world who feel the same. What is it about you that sees potential in someone and chooses to lift them up, when you could just as easily move on without a second thought?
Wow!!! This is something that you have never told me before and I am very, very grateful that you are sharing it with me now. It’s a great pleasure for me to have participated in an important way in the wonderful growth I have seen in you over the years.
In answer to your question, I think that it comes from two sources. First, I understand and remember very well, and in a very vivid and real way, what it is like to hit absolute rock bottom. After my accident I had nothing at all, not even myself. Secondly, the amazing generosity and love that I observed in my parents; not just with me but toward everyone in their lives. So, as a tribute to them I would like to end with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which was a life changing gift to me, and which I try as best as I can to repay the gift forward:
“Never underestimate what a small act of kindness can do to change a life”
Some Closing Thoughts – This January marks the beginning of a third year for a season of Sit Downs on VT Works, and it is both an honor and a thrill to have Dr. Sanet help me kick of 2016. Having worked together for five years (2002-2007), Dr. Sanet has long been a positive influence in my life on both personal and professional levels; the most important of which being that of friendship. Although his pearls of clinical wisdom shared almost 10 years ago continue to ring true on a daily basis, it’s the laugh out loud funny emails and the occasional reunions at a conference we’re both attending that have come to mean the most to me. As Dr. Sanet wrote, his goal is to impact one million lives. Well, if he’s counting impacts on personal and professional levels, he can definitely put me down for two.
Please join me in wishing Dr. Sanet, his wife Linda, and his one million beneficiaries the absolute best! 🙂