NORA, or otherwise known as Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association, is a student organization that “is committed to advancing treatment of the neurologically impaired patients.” The group also provides tutoring and support for New England College of Optometry (NECO) students taking the Neuroanatomy course and brings in speakers to speak about their personal experiences. At the most recent NORA meeting, two speakers were invited to share their experiences with neuro-optometry and rehabilitation. Neuro-optometrists work with patients with brain disorders, strokes, and TBIs. Both perspectives as the patient and doctor were discussed. This wonderful talk filled with words of advice given to the audience of students that ranged from first to third years at NECO.
The first speaker was Nathan Smith, a former intel analyst, military veteran, and husband of NORA’s President, Amber Smith (OD2020). Nathan shared his story of experiencing debilitating migraines after sustaining a series of head injuries throughout his life and his exhausting journey to find the help he needed. With a timeline of all his doctor visits presented on the screen, Nathan explained how he saw approximately 11 different physicians ranging from chiropractors to neurologists. Each practitioner always had the same response - there was no solution to the migraines he was experiencing. Nathan was on the brink of giving up and considering changing occupations due to his pain - which prevented him from working at a computer - when his wife read an article about how changing prescriptions for computer viewing could help with eye strain. It was reading this article and performing a short Google search that paved the way for Nathan’s rehabilitation and the introduction to his current neuro-optometrist, Marsha Benshir, OD, F.N.O.R.A.
Dr. Benshir, Nathan’s optometrist, was also present during this meeting and shared her experiences and perspective as a doctor who rehabilitates patients with neurological issues that result in visual impairment. Dr. Benshir is a practicing neuro-optometrist in Maryland and has helped rehabilitate hundreds of patients with the aid of different methods that she has personally cultivated or learned from other fellow neuro-optometrists. Dr. Benshir considers the main difference between an optometrist and ophthalmologist as the following: an ophthalmologist “fixes hardware” while an optometrist “fixes software.” With that, Dr. Benshir’s presentation described what neuro-optometry is and sprinkled in a few stories of patients she saw throughout her 38 years of practicing, including a time where she brought a patient out of a vegetative state with simple trial lenses.
Dr. Benshir, as well as Nathan, reiterated the importance of listening to patients and that each case shouldn’t just be taken at face value alone, like with Nathan’s situation. In Nathan’s case, he was physically healthy and had no symptoms that aligned with a diagnosis, so it took patience, as well as mutual trust between the patient and doctor, to dig deeper into what could be going wrong neurologically, which then is related visually. Dr. Benshir stated that vision and eyesight, though they utilize the same visual system, are totally different entities and how if we had one without the other, we wouldn’t be able to have the processing ability needed in order to see.
For more information about NORA or to learn more about Neuro-Optometry, visit the club’s website on: https://www.neco.edu/student-life/student-groups/NORA.
About Dr. Benshir: Dr. Marsha Benshir is a Neuro-development optometrist and a fellow of NORA. In her private practice in Maryland she specializes in binocular vision disorders, brain disorders, traumatic brain injury and stroke. Dr. Benshir also works on staff at Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. and Western Maryland Hospital Center in Hagerstown, Maryland where she mainly sees patients with various brain injuries and disorders. She also has extensive experience working with disabled children with vision issues. While studying at Illinois College of Optometry for her doctorate Dr. Benshir helped found the Vision Development Center in Chicago. While studying she was also given the Anne Pollack award and the OEP Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Vision Research for her work with children with learning disabilities at the Oak Therapeutic school. She has been consulted by numerous research and educational organizations, and now teaches other medical professionals the importance of vision rehabilitation.