Life-Changing Experiences

Rehabilitation Programs Gave Me Independence

by Sam Huhn

Back in June I had the opportunity to tour the Philadelphia VA Medical Center Eye Clinic. Although I am a regular patient at the clinic, I participated in the tour in order to learn about new practices that are being implemented there, as well as at other eye clinics around the country. I was also able to share my enthusiasm and appreciation with the staff and others for the excellent care that the VA eye doctors have provided to blinded veterans like me.

Since being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in the early 1960s, I have sought care from some of the best eye physicians in the world. I participated in a five-year research treatment program for RP at Harvard University and the Eye and Ear Hospital of Boston, Massachusetts. I have also been under the care of eye physicians at the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, also located in Philadelphia.

Through some of the contacts at the Scheie Eye Institute, I met a gentleman named G.W. Stilwell in the early 1990s. He coordinates care for blinded and low vision veterans at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. G.W. informed me about a program at a VA Blind Rehabilitation Center located in West Haven, Connecticut, and arranged for me to spend 12 weeks there in 1992. The rehab program taught me how to live a full and independent life, despite my vision-limiting condition.

Ever since my experience at the rehabilitation center, I have been under the expert care of the VA eye doctors in Philadelphia. They have provided me with a number of low-vision devices that help me in my daily living, which includes my important volunteer work to which I refer later.

I was also able to take a Computer Access Training course in 1998. The course enabled me to gain even more independence. Recently, the doctors at the eye clinic suggested that I schedule myself to undergo a newly developed laser procedure in which a tiny hold in the intraocular lens of my right eye will be cut to reduce some of the cloudiness and blurriness that I experience.

During my years of care, I have learned a lot about the Philadelphia Eye Clinic. The clinic is led by Dr. Michael Sulewski. Dr. Sulewski is also the head of the Ophthalmology Department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Scheie Eye Institute. He has worked hard in recent years to secure funding and other resources for the medical center. His hard work has paid off recently as the Eye Clinic is very close to opening a new wing devoted to eye care.

Because of Dr. Sulewski’s connection with the University of Pennsylvania, the Eye Clinic also has access to residents who are trained on cutting-edge procedures and equipment of the highest quality that the field has to offer. This allows the veterans under their care to receive life-changing vision treatments before most people in the general public have even heard about them.

No one ever wants to be diagnosed with a blindness-causing disease. I was certainly devastated when I learned of my condition. I am nevertheless pleased to acknowledge that, thanks to the support I have received from the Eye Clinic and other blinded veterans, I am living an independent life. 

I have devoted much of my life to volunteer service.

Opportunities to serve others have brought me deep satisfaction. I am strongly committed to the importance of encouraging other blinded veterans to seek out the many resources that VA offers them. As people who have served our country well, they deserve to find out about and receive the care they deserve.

Through the cutting-edge care and rehabilitation services available to blinded veterans in Philadelphia and all across the country, many more veterans will learn how to “boogie around” like I do. Most important, they will become more independent and empowered to serve and lift their fellow veterans.

 

Why Enroll in a Blind Rehab Center

By Kelly J.R. Dunn

Simply put: Blind Rehabilitation Improves Quality of Life.

“Why should I go to training? I’m not totally blind. I’m doing just fine. I just need a magnifier and new glasses. I don’t want to take a spot from someone who really needs to go.”

As a VIST Coordinator, I am always amazed at how often I hear statements like those. For you who have been to a VA Blind Rehab Center for training, you know the value of the training you received. For those of you who still have not experienced such training, let’s look at some of the hard facts:

  • Once people with vision loss learn orientation and mobility skills from a certified instructor, they are less likely to fall and suffer broken bones or fractures, thus preventing the need for physical rehabilitation and possible nursing home care.

  • Blind rehabilitation specialists teach adaptive skills so that individuals can maintain a level of independence in the areas of cooking, managing money and finances, traveling safely, reading the newspaper, managing medications, and other daily activities.

  • There are numerous optical and blind aids that you may not know about and which cannot be fully addressed by your local VA. At blind centers, trainees, receive personalized evaluations for appropriate aids to assist them. They also obtain direct, one-on-one training on how to use the devices. In many cases they are provided with the devices to take home or to be delivered to their home.

  • There are “tricks of the trade” for doing things with a vision loss that are taught at blind centers. These can relieve blinded veterans of frustrations when trying to complete daily tasks.

  • After receiving blind rehabilitation, those with impaired vision are also less likely to suffer from health problems associated with an inactive lifestyle.

            
“As a recent graduate of the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center (December 2005), I heartily concur with the above statements,” said Jeff Clark, VIST volunteer and patient. “I would add that the important, albeit less tangible, benefit is the camaraderie with fellow vets, all of whom have similar visual impairments, which gave me a valuable new perspective on my disability and made my ‘quality of life’ vastly better than before.”

Editor’s Note: In addition to his service to blinded veterans as Director of District 3, Sam Huhn has been a volunteer National Service Officer since 1992. Kelly Dunn is a licensed social worker and a VIST Coordinator with the VA Boston Healthcare System in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

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