Riverhead High School graduate offers new kind of eye care

09/06/2015 10:00 AM |

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Most optometry offices don’t come equipped with Xbox controllers and high-tech goggles, but that is exactly what motivates the minds behind Riverhead’s new Twin Forks Optometry & Vision Therapy.

Dr. Miki Lyn D’Angelo, a 2006 Riverhead High School graduate, and Dr. Jessica Fulmer opened their practice Monday, and the latter part of its name is key: They claim they are the first optometrists on the East End to offer “vision therapy,” a more specialized form of eye care that goes beyond lenses to focus on eye movements and exercises.

“[Vision therapy] is more difficult than your regular ‘What’s clearer, option one or two?’ ” Dr. D’Angelo explained. “It’s not a quick fix. It’s actual therapy.”

The therapy tends to run twice a week for several dozen sessions. During those meetings, Dr. D’Angelo and Dr. Fulmer hope to help children as young as 6 months old with their educational development.

“With diagnoses such as [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] that are being diagnosed so much in children, underlying vision issues can mimic those,” Dr. Fulmer said.

They also offer therapy to help victims of traumatic brain injuries recover strong vision.

At their office on Cranberry Street, one room is devoted to traditional eye examinations and another is used solely for therapy. A variety of gadgets that seem better-suited for a teenager’s basement than a medical office fill the room: a large, flat-screen television; Bluetooth-capable goggles and a black Xbox controller.

But those tools are not used for pure entertainment — they’re used to understand the nuances of each person’s eyes.

A pair of Visagraph goggles will record how someone’s eyes move when reading a sample text. It can then recreate those movements on a computer screen, highlighting any possible problems — for example, if a person errantly skips lines or visually stumbles over certain words.

By doing so, Dr. D’Angelo explained, they can understand whether a child’s struggles are because of an intellectual gap or weakness in the physical eye movements used in reading.

“If they have an eye movement issue, it doesn’t matter if they read on their grade level or two grade levels below — their numbers will still be low,” Dr. D’Angelo said. “Then it’s not a comprehension issue. You really want to make that distinction in kids: Is it a visual issue or an educational issue?”

On a large television in the center of the room, patients can play a variety of games designed to sharpen eye movement, many of which involve following an object around the screen while wearing 3-D glasses. The setup is a sort of digital exercise machine for eyes.

The doctors met while working at Sound Vision Care in Riverhead, but after several conversations, they decided the North Fork was lacking a center for vision therapy. Dr. D’Angelo said the closest office with similar amenities is in Lake Ronkonkoma.

So six months ago, they took the plunge and began the process of opening their own practice.

“People out on the East End don’t want to travel a lot,” she said. “Riverhead is the farthest that they want to go.”

And for Dr. D’Angelo, opening her own office here is a way to give back to the town she grew up in.

“Once I was really into vision therapy, I would always say to my mom, ‘It blows my mind that there’s nothing out on the East End — it would be such a great idea!’ ” she said. “It’s nice to be back home and to be providing care for your hometown.”

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Photo caption: At their new optometry office that opened Monday, Dr. Miki Lyn D’Angelo (wearing goggles) and Dr. Jessica Fulmer (rear) offer ‘vision therapy’ to strengthen eye movement with a variety of gadgets and games.

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