Sandra's story

Seeing the bigger picture: meet Sandra

Sandra tries new glasses

"Breaking my eyeglasses has changed my life forever. Thanks to the University of Waterloo Optometry Clinic, my brain feels completely in tune with my vision for the very first time."

In early 2021, Sandra broke her glasses. What normally is considered an inconvenience turned out to set her on a life-changing path, leading to the University of Waterloo’s Binocular Vision (BV) Clinic.

For most of her adult life, Sandra’s eyes struggled to work together as a team, causing immense strain on her eye muscles. Every-day tasks involving depth perception felt impossible. For the past two decades, her eyeglasses have included thick prisms - a type of lens that moves the world into a place more favourable for abnormal eye alignment. Her glasses got increasingly thicker and harder to adjust to, as though the world was swimming around her. In the past, Sandra had been told she would eventually need corrective eye surgery, called strabismus surgery.

Having recently moved into the Kitchener area to assist with her grandchildren during the pandemic and needing a new optometrist, Sandra’s daughter recommended she check out the University of Waterloo to replace her broken glasses. It was at her initial eye exam that Waterloo’s Dr. Jim Dippel suggested Sandra could benefit from the BV Clinic’s Vision Therapy program to help re-train her eye muscles to work together, ease strain, and reduce her dependence on prism lenses.

OPtometry clinic patient Sandra poses with Dr. Julie Shalhoub in UW's eyeglasses dispensary
After an initial assessment from Dr. Julie Shalhoub, Co-Head of the BV Clinic, Sandra was prescribed a custom regimen of daily exercises designed to retrain the brain and eyes to work better together to improve visual functioning – starting with a routine of 15 minutes a day with simple items like a string with beads, printed charts of letters and a pair of 3-D glasses.

Pictured left: Sandra with Dr. Julie Shalhoub

Sandra noticed her hard work starting to pay off in under two weeks. She remembered being the passenger on a road-trip and actually “seeing” road signs for the first time. She described it to the Waterloo student interns as though her brain was finally making sense and remembering pictures more clearly. As she progressed through a vision therapy program she moved on to online daily exercises with progress monitored by the BV clinic.  

Now, seven months later, Sandra’s eye muscles are much stronger than they were before. She recently filled an updated prescription on a new set of eyeglasses – her first prism-free pair in over 25 years!

“I feel, in my experience with prisms, that it was like I was given one cane, then two canes, then a walker, then a wheelchair without ever having been given the exercises to train my leg muscles to learn to walk. I can finally trust what I’m seeing in front of me because I know my eyes and my brain are working together,” says Sandra.

For Sandra, it’s the little moments that show her how much her improved vision has bettered her quality of life. “There are now ‘firsts’ which will stay with me forever after beginning my treatment at Waterloo - like looking up from under a tree branch and thinking to myself in awe that there is layer upon layer of thick leaves up there!”

With the freedom her improved vision now provides, Sandra is looking forward to the future as an active friend, partner, mother, and grandmother.

"When I think about life 20+ years ago, I realize that I have so few clear memories of my children growing up because of my vision. Now I know that, with a little dedication to my treatment plan, I won’t have to miss out on the opportunity to build beautifully clear memories of life with my grandchildren."

“I get very emotional when I think of what the binocular vision clinic has done to change my life in so many positive ways. I am forever grateful to Dr. Dippel for recommending me, and to Dr. Shalhoub for everything she does!”