Alicia Mulholland was like many other 22-year-old Canadian women: enrolled in college, working part-time and engaged to be married. There was just one major roadblock in her life: she wasn’t able to get a driver’s license because of poor vision.
“In early infancy Alicia developed a condition called nystagmus, a neurological disorder where the eyes make repetitive, involuntary movements. Often, people with nystagmus might place their head in an unusual position to compensate for the eye movements,” says Dr. Shaun Golemba of Valley Vision Optometry.
Alicia wasn’t aware that she was placing her head in an unusual position, and wasn’t aware that she had nystagmus, but her doctor noticed. She received excellent care from a pediatric ophthalmologist who diagnosed her nystagmus and also high amounts of astigmatism, the refractive disorder that causes light rays to focus at different focal points.
“Although astigmatism is common, Alicia’s high amounts of astigmatism aren’t common,” Dr. Golemba says.
Alicia has worn eyeglasses from a young age to compensate for the astigmatism, but even with the best glasses, she wasn’t able to meet the 20/50 acuity standard for a BC driver’s license.
Like many people with nystagmus, Alicia also has very lightly pigmented retinas.
“Since pigment in the retina absorbs light, people with lightly pigmented retinas tend to be very light sensitive,” Dr. Golemba says. “She also experienced eyestrain and headaches, two other symptoms that accompany the light sensitivity.”
At age 16 Alicia aged-out of the pediatric ophthalmology program and struggled to find a helpful adult ophthalmologist. She received compensatory lenses for the astigmatism and prescription sunglasses for the light sensitivity, but the prospects of getting a driver’s license were still out of reach.
For this Vancouverite, the solution was Port Alberni
Alicia stumbled across a YouTube video of Dr. Golemba from Valley Vision Optometry when she was researching nystagmus online, and made a special trip to Port Alberni. Dr. Golemba has a special interest in Low Vision, a part of optometry practice that involves prescribing devices other than standard glasses for people who have sub-normal vision. He’s also interested in Binocular Vision Care — how the two eyes work together.
After an extensive exam, Dr. Golemba identified Alicia’s ‘null point’ — the position in space where her eyes shake the least, when holding her head in her compensatory position. He prescribed lenses with prisms that shift the eyes into that position and allow her to hold her head in a normal position. These prisms were incorporated into a specialty lens that provides more magnification than standard glasses and also reduces light sensitivity.
“Dr. Golemba is very personable and he’s opened so many doors for me by helping me get these glasses. I’m most excited to start driving lessons now that I finally have my L, and I’m excited to learn how to ride a bike and snowboard and all sorts of other activities I’ve watched my peers participate in over the years,” Alicia says. “But honestly the best part of these glasses is finally being able to recognize people’s faces. I used to walk right past my mother or my fiancé without knowing who they were. It made it very difficult to interact with people or make friends, so Dr. Golemba has completely changed how I interact with the world.”