On February 27, 2009 Sean left for the Hines VA Blind Center. Our oldest daughter travelled to the Sioux Falls airport with us to send him off. It was a bittersweet day. I was relieved that he would finally be getting some assistance, since we clearly did not know how to manage vision loss at home, but once again I was sending my husband away. It was extremely difficult to drive out of the airport parking lot knowing I might not see him for another two months.
Sean received training in daily living skills for individuals with low vision: cooking, cleaning, household maintenance, braille, orientation and mobility, typing, assistive devices (gadgets) for the blind, cane training, organization, and computer skills.
The computer he uses is awesome! It has program called Zoomtext which allows him to enlarge the screen as much as he needs to read. He can scan documents to read on his computer. The program can also read material to him. He brought home different magnifiers and pocket magnifiers. He has a gadget that can scan his prescription labels and tell him what medication is in the bottle. There is another that can scan bar codes at the grocery store and one that tells the color of clothing. He has an Optron which projects an item/image on the table onto a larger viewing screen so he can read material or work on models and other projects.
Sean was seen by Dr. D, a neuro opthamologist, who measured his vision at count fingers at six inches. Given the health of his eyes and lack of evidence of optic neuritis, she determined the cause was most likely trauma to the brain due to the blast injury. She said his vision was not likely to improve.
He was given glasses with tinted lenses to help with photophobia, and prisms were put in his lenses to help minimize the double vision.
While in Chicago Sean had the opportunity to attend many Chicago Bulls games, Blackhawks hockey games, and a couple White Sox games. The clinic patients attended a golf tournament where they were able to golf with a guide as their “eyes.”
On May 13th I flew to Chicago for the family education portion of his rehabilitation. I was given two days with the instructors to experience what Sean had been doing for the past two and a half months. I received some orientation and mobiltiy training along with some instruction on guiding a blind person. It’s an amazing program and it was fantastic to meet the caring staff. I also got to meet some of the patients who were all very positive about their experiences.
I think the biggest change in Sean was his new found independence. He had become reliant on me for everything and this trip forced him to be on his own and learn that he could take care of himself. The other big change was that by learning to slow down and use the blind cane he no longer needed to use the walker. He was still dizzy and off-balance, but he had learned to feel his body and be more aware of how he was moving. He was glad to be rid of the rollator!
Sean loved his experieces at Hines. It opened new doors for him and brought him connections he never thought possible. Many of the activities and trips he participates in today would not have been possible without his making connections there.