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The long road back
“It was great that we were making progress,” Pothier said. “But we hadn’t found the solution yet.”
That is where Dr. Susan Durham and Dr. Paul Harris come in.
Pothier returned to Kelly in Colorado. He diagnosed a problem with Pothier’s fourth cranial nerve, which connects to the superior oblique muscle of the eye - the muscle that controls the eye’s movement.
Lucic’s hit on Pothier damaged the nerve, which is at the base of the brain. When the nerve - essentially a path of communication - didn’t work, Pothier’s brain had to reroute the information to his eye. It got there but slower than it needed to, which caused blurry vision and trailing.
Eventually, Pothier found out that Durham, who is based in Cary, N.C., had treated Matt Cullen of the Carolina Hurricanes, who dealt with some of the same post-concussion issues. Pothier paid her a visit, and she started him on something called vision therapy.
“We are revamping or improving the message that the brain is sending to the eyes. We are basically rebuilding brains,” Durham said. “A lot of people think, if something happens to the brain, it is, ‘Oh, too bad - you’re done.’ But there has been a significant amount of new studies about the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is basically rebuilding brains. It is creating new pathways.”
Pothier only saw Durham once but Harris, who mentored her on the process, practices in Cockeysville, Md., so he has continued the rehabilitation there. Some of the exercises are done with things like a swinging ball. Others are on a computer or involve special glasses which show if Pothier is using both eyes the same way.
It is essentially a process for Pothier to relearn how to see. At one point, he was told his vision was working at the level of an 8-year-old.
“We are not born with vision, and I’m not talking about eyesight,” Durham said. “Eyesight is the ability to see 20/20 or 20/30 - visual acuity. Both Brian and Matt had excellent visual acuity, but it was their vision process that was messed up.”
One of the resulting issues from the nerve damage is Pothier developed an astigmatism on his right eye. Until recently, he had trouble with feeling nauseous and cold sweats.
“It was like being seasick,” he said.
The solution was a pair of glasses, which helped Pothier tremendously. He’s in his second week of working out again, with plans to ramp it up should he make it through this week with no setbacks.
He was even back on the ice shooting pucks Tuesday, even if it was just in tennis shoes. Pothier said Harris is confident his visual process will return to the level it was before the concussion and he will be able to ditch the glasses.
If all continues to go well, he will try to go on the ice with skates on again. If that goes well, he’ll be able to incorporate skating into his rehabilitation program.
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