This Woman’s Undiagnosed Vision Problem Led Her to Invent a New Type of Glasses

Denise Drace-Brownell spent decades passing on promising job opportunities because of her vision impairment. Once diagnosed with Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD) and given the right pair of glasses, her whole life changed—and her condition corrected.

eyeglassesVictoria Shapiro/ShutterstockI’ll never forget the day eight years ago when I truly saw Central Park for the first time. It was a chilly, clear autumn day and I had just picked up a pair of glasses that were sturdy enough to wear when I played squash. After complaining for years about my vision issues, at the age of 54 I finally found an optometrist who took me seriously and prescribed single-distance vision glasses with prism lenses. He wasn’t even certain these would help me, but he knew that I would keep complaining so he decided to try something new. (Learn about other amazing vision breakthroughs.)

The moment I put those glasses on, a world I had never known suddenly snapped into focus. All around me, depth, color, and texture took on new meaning. The leaves on the trees differentiated themselves from one another, the water on the lake rippled. What had once been a uniform blur separated into hundreds of glitter images.

But it took me a long time to get to this moment.

As a kid, I often had problems reading, even though I was a driven student. I was always tired. If I read for 15 minutes, I would need to rest. When I was in seventh grade, my mother, a surgical nurse, noticed I was struggling and took me to an ophthalmologist. As scores of other eye doctors would do in the future, he told my mom that my vision was fine. Still, I knew something was wrong In class, I was unable to read without stumbling on the words, stuttering, and mispronouncing them. I was bullied whenever I was asked to read out loud.

I didn’t know what to call what I had and only learned that it had a name—esophoria—as an adult, in 2009, after I finally got the prism glasses. Esophoria is a condition of Binocular Vision Disorder (BVD), where the eyes tend to deviate inward, causing double vision. In fact, it took three more years before I was finally officially diagnosed with BVD, which affects at least 12 percent of Americans, hampering our ability to read, saddling us with headaches, and disrupting our balance.

I spent decades seeing overlapping and blurred images, where most people see a single image. So, not only was my reading blurred but it caused constant eye strain, too. I had another BVD issue as well called anisometropia, which means my two eyes have large discrepancies in their refractive powers. I recalled a past exam, where a doctor had found my anisometropia, but missed my esophoria.

optometristKzenon/ShutterstockDespite my eye conditions, I kept doing the best I could. In high school, I got a job at Gannett News. And even though reading was extremely challenging, I made it through law school by committing swaths of information to memory. As a result of that, I could recall facts without having to crack a book.

After law school, I was able to work, but I often passed on great jobs because I couldn’t keep up with the reading. Plus, I was constantly tired because of the eye strain.

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Sights seen

Everything changed in 2009 when I put on that pair of prism glasses. I finally got to see the world in a whole new way, and something else shifted in me. It was amazing: When I wore my new eyeglasses, I was able to see single-image print instead of blurred text. I also experienced greater depth perception.

By the following spring I had come up with the idea for an invention of a new kind of eyeglass called OPTICA that would further improve my vision and address my BVD condition. I’m almost ready to launch them.

visiongrufnar/ShutterstockBest of all, last fall, I discovered that I no longer need to wear the prism glasses. I suspected that maybe my eyes had improved and my doctor confirmed that my BVD had resolved. We know that vision is all about the brain, and sometimes prism glasses will not only correct vision but improve it, as they align the eyes and improve the eye/brain connection.

These days, I tell everyone about BVD and I encourage people to make sure they get a BVD assessment as part of their comprehensive eye exam, then follow up with an eye care professional regarding the best course of treatment. I want everyone to know about this condition and get the help they need.

For more information about BVD, visit the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.

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