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Regaining Independence Through Low Vision Rehab

When a non-cancerous brain tumor brought irreversible (and uncorrectable) vision loss, Mary Bolger turned to vision rehabilitation specialist Dr. Calliope Galatis at Mass. Eye and Ear.

Mary Bolger’s struggle with irreversible vision loss — or low vision — first began more than two years ago. A non-cancerous brain tumor had impaired her vision in ways that couldn’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, surgery or medications.

When her vision became blurry, the advertising professional (who owns her own agency in Worcester, Mass.), became fearful of how her life might change without the clear eyesight she depends upon.

“I was having a hard time with everyday things, like seeing labels while shopping, reading the mail and writing,” Mary said. “And I wasn’t ready to give up working.”

A Sight-Threatening Brain Tumor

Mary’s early symptoms led her to Dr. William Curry, a neurosurgeon at Mass General Hospital, who diagnosed her with a meningioma brain tumor.

Although non-cancerous, the tumor threatened her sight. It was large — affecting the front and back portions of her brain — and required several surgeries. Dr. Curry was able to safely remove most of the tumor and was hopeful that it would not continue growing.

Adapting to Vision Loss with Vision Rehabilitation

After her first surgery, Mary’s vision improved more than expected, but she was still struggling to adjust to life with impaired vision.

That’s when Mary’s doctor recommended she meet with Calliope Galatis, O.D., an optometrist at Mass. Eye and Ear specializing in vision rehabilitation.

Dr. Galatis works with patients who, like Mary, have low vision. She helps them to maximize their remaining sight with visual aids and teaches them new techniques to improve their quality of life, independence and safety.

“Dr. Galatis has taught me so many new ways to do things that have made my life easier,” Mary said. “I learned how to scan objects and use accessibility features on my phone and computer. And I have a video magnifier that allows me to read any ads they give me at work. It might take me a little longer to get work done, but I am still able to continue my life.”

Dr. Galatis also helped Mary find supportive services in her community. As a new member of a library for people with visual impairments, Mary now has access to thousands of free digital and audio books.

She also discovered a local bus service that she can use to get to work daily, run errands and get to appointments. “Not being able to drive has been the biggest change for me. Having the bus has given me back some of my independence,” she says.

Focused on regaining her independence, Mary Bolger (left), of Worcester Mass., works with her doctor, Calliope Galatis, O.D., to maximize her remaining sight through visual aids.

A Sight-Saving Diagnosis

Dr. Galatis has closely monitored Mary’s vision with macular perimetry — a test that detects blind spots in central vision — since her very first appointment. This past summer, tests showed that Mary’s field of vision was decreasing.

Knowing that this could be an early warning sign that the tumor could be growing back, Mary met with Dr. Curry again, who confirmed that the tumor had begun to grow again. It was cutting off blood supply to the eye’s optic nerve and attaching itself to surrounding structures.

Dr. Curry removed much of the tumor a second time, restoring blood flow to the optic nerve and preventing further vision loss.

“My symptoms were so subtle,” Mary said. If Dr. Galatis hadn’t been checking my vision regularly, I could have gone completely blind.”

The Future is Bright

Today, Mary continues to focus on regaining her independence. She’s working on new vision exercises, and her goal is to drive again one day.

“I really feel like everyone in the Vision Rehabilitation Service gave me the confidence to take back my life,” she said. “I’m not going to sit back and let my vision deteriorate without a fight.”

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