- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) - “It was one big, blurry, scary world” - that’s how optometrist Cathy Doty described life through the eyes of 16-month-old Joseph, one of her patients.

By that age, most parents of toddlers complain their little one is challenging. It’s around this time toddlers want to experiment - they ambitiously climb on countertops and constantly test their physical prowess. After all, most have just achieved the art of walking and want to explore.

But for little Joseph, things were different. He wasn’t walking or talking yet, and his parents noticed his eyes began to cross.

Joseph’s parents were immediately alarmed when his eyes began to focus in different directions. The condition, which is commonly called “crossed eyes” and medically defined as strabismus, can cause permanent damage to the weaker eye leading to poor eyesight for a lifetime if left untreated.

Joseph’s parents called New Bern Family Eye Care for an appointment. It was three months before the next available slot even after being placed on a cancellation call list, Doty said. Unfortunately, the couple didn’t have the transportation to travel outside the area, so they waited the long three months to see Doty.

“This one patient in particular really affected me,” Doty said. “How long he waited to get in, the family’s limited resources to travel and the fact that there is a need for more time to treat pediatric patients made me really think about my practice.”

After examining Joseph and determining his extremely high prescription for glasses, it was like a miracle to his parents, Doty said.

“Fortunately, Joseph is doing great now. He is walking, running and even starting to talk,” she said.

After treating the toddler and many other young patients with some of the same issues, Doty decided after more than 20 years of practicing optometry to focus solely on pediatrics and special-needs patients.

“I wish this was the first child I treated with these problems, but I see this all the time,” she said. “This issue is extremely important to me because if vision problems are detected early, they can be corrected.”

Doty said the most critical stages of vision development occur in the first year of life. She also pointed out that during a child’s first 12 years, 80 percent of learning comes through the eyes.

“The development of vision is primary for so many other areas of development,” Doty said. “It affects motor skills, language development, coordination and even speech development.”

With statistics in hand, Doty listed the effect poor vision development has on the population.

“Previously unidentified vision problems were found in 70 percent of children identified as poor learners; 70 percent of juvenile offenders and 74 percent of illiterate adults,” she said.

She listed case studies of children who had developmental delays that were directly attributed to eyesight. One of the cases she highlighted was a 5-year-old girl who had significant learning challenges and speech delay. While she passed vision screenings that were offered by her pediatrician, a thorough eye exam caught a subtle eye that turned inward. She was found to be very farsighted and is now a successful student and above grade level in reading.

Doty said many parents believe that if they don’t have vision problems, their children won’t either. This is not the case though.

“Vision problems can skip a generation,” she said. “I’ve had so many parents surprised that their children have any issues. And, I’ve had many who are very concerned because they didn’t know what their child was going through. Unless you have experienced problems, you can’t understand what your child is going through.”

Doty will begin the transition of treating pediatric patients in February, when the office will call all of her adult patients and ask them to see another optometrist on staff in New Bern or at their sister office, Pamlico Family Eye Care located in Alliance.

“I’m very lucky to be able to pursue my passion,” Doty said. “I have the support of the other doctors and I will be able to focus on a desperate need in the community.”

Doty said the school system and pediatricians are doing everything they can with the resources available to help children, but unfortunately, if a parent is made aware of a problem, it is at the parent’s discretion to follow-up on it.

In addition, vast majorities of children’s vision screenings, such as those conducted in the schools or at doctor’s offices, have high rates of false negatives, according to the National Commission of Vision Health.

Doty hopes to focus solely on pediatric patients and those with special needs of all ages, such as those with autism disorders, etc., by the spring.

“I’m so excited that I will be doing something that I love and will be able to help the community,” she said.


Information from: The Sun Journal, https://www.newbernsunjournal.com

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