Injury raises need for protective eye gear

Optometric Vision Therapist Kristen Skelly (left) guides Jaden Vecchione through an activity during eye therapy at the Austin Eye Gym in Cedar Park. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Optometric Vision Therapist Kristen Skelly (left) guides Jaden Vecchione through an activity during eye therapy at the Austin Eye Gym in Cedar Park. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

Jaden Vecchione loves everything about sports, especially soccer, baseball and football, but living his dream of rough and tumble and carefree contact came to a screeching halt nearly four years ago when he was only six.

A freak home accident sent him to the emergency room with severe eye trauma turning his world upside down and raising more questions than answers about his eyesight and his life.

“Some elastic straps used for exercising snapped and hit my left eye,” recalls Jaden.

His mother, Jennifer Vecchione, says that her son’s eye had taken a direct hit, gashing the lower part.

“He had blood pouring out of the eye; it swelled immediately and bruised,” she said. “We rushed him to Dell Children’s Hospital. By the time we arrived his eye was swollen shut. The attending ER doctors didn’t want to look at it until the ophthalmologist came. We prayed together while we waited.”

The initial diagnosis, Mrs. Vecchione recalls, was that her son had scratches on the cornea and sclera, but that it appeared Jaden’s retina was still intact.

“We would have to treat his eye with antibiotics, steroids, and pain drops and follow up with the doctor the next day.”

This would begin a series of multiple weekly visits with the doctor while Jaden’s swelling went down. During this time, the then first grader was placed on activity restrictions including not to play, jump, ride a bike or do anything active.

“Everything was going okay at first,” said Jaden’s mom. However, once the initial swelling went down in about a week or two, she noticed that his retina looked as though it was detaching at the bottom.

An ultrasound of the eye and a picture of the retina confirmed their fears, said Mrs. Vecchione. She said doctors hoped that the retina might reattach itself and wanted to do eye surgery only as a last resort.

“In a week or two it looked as though it was reattaching and we just kept going in for rechecks,” Jaden’s mother said. “However, it began to detach again. This was because there was scar tissue inside the eye as well as on the back of the retina pulling it back off.”

After five eye surgeries including retina reattachment, Jaden still finds it a daily challenge.

“It is not hard to focus, but I still have blurriness especially with my glasses and have trouble with my peripheral because of a central blind spot,” the fourth grade student at Bill Burden Elementary School said. Pausing and reflecting for a moment on the effects of his injury, Jaden grudgingly muttered, “It’s affected sports, too. I can’t play football. Sometimes, I have my down times and I wish I could have another clear eye.”

“The first surgery was the hardest,” his mother said. “We just didn’t know what to expect. Wearing a patch got hot and sweaty for him, but having to face down for two weeks after his retina reattachment surgery was really hard. He could sit up for a few minutes to eat and got a few breaks but it was not easy.”

Mrs. Vecchione said that she and her husband were devastated by the injury to their son.

“We were filled with incredible guilt because we had allowed him to play with the bands,” she said. “If God could ever give us a reset second, I know we would choose that moment. We at first were not sure if he would lose his eye entirely. Then we started researching retinal detachments in children and the statistics are not good.”

Despite the heartbreak, Mrs. Vecchione was determined to turn a negative into a positive.

“You either let it get you down or get through it,” she said. “I didn’t let him (Jaden) go down pity lane. I told him to learn what he could do. I’m really proud of him. Jaden has been so strong. He was always telling us that it would be okay and he was more worried about us.”

Mrs. Vecchione says her son’s vision in his injured left eye is only 20/200 and sometimes 20/100 even with correction.

“He has more peripheral vision in the eye and has a ‘black spot’ that is actually a tear in the retina itself,” she said. “His central vision was most affected. His eye would wander and his depth perception is off. When he would patch, his eye would straighten for a while, but it didn’t last. I had researched vision therapy and felt that this was our next step to try to give him the best chance.”

Since August 2014, Jaden has been getting weekly eye therapy at the Austin Eye Gym in Cedar Park to get both eyes to work together. Austin Eye Gym specializes in diagnostic, therapeutic and enhancement services to habilitate, rehabilitate, and enhance neuro-visual function.

“After my first two surgeries, I learned that I wasn’t the only one when I saw other kids including babies with eye problems and that I just had to go on,” Jaden said. “I’ve met so many good people and they have helped me so much.”

So impacted by his injurious journey and recovery, Jaden has made presentations on his injury and eye safety to his classes and says he would like to become an “eye doctor.” He has also begun to focus on getting his active life back on track.

“I could still play baseball and flag football,” he said. “There are some places that limit contact.”

And as far as those protective glasses that have become a part of his regular attire, Jaden has come to realize their importance and the increased risks he would place himself in if he didn’t wear them.

“I need to wear them and I’ve gotten use to them,” he said. “I want to help others to learn from what happened to me. It’s a really high risk for retinal detachment for kids.”

Likewise, his mother’s awareness of the risks has been considerably raised and she now advises parents to take note and to take precautions.

“You never realize how much your children run and jump till you have to tell them they can’t,” she said.

Jaden’s mother went on to say that the possibilities for eye injury are endless but sports, in particular, put children at a high risk. For these reasons, she encourages parents to consider getting protective eye gear like goggles or glasses for their children.