This story originally appeared in our June 2013 issue.
Twenty-seven years ago, Debby Feinberg, OD, was on a double date with her husband, her otolaryngologist brother-in-law and his date. The brother-in-law picked up a loose prism he carried to help him see. Dr. Feinberg thought it was unusual, and asked him to come in for an exam. “I thought I could incorporate the prism into his eyeglasses,” she says, and she did. Dr. Feinberg thought it was unusual, and asked him to come in for an exam. “I thought I could incorporate the prism into his eyeglasses,” she says, and she did. Dr. Feinberg was then in practice with her father, Paul Feinberg, OD.
Later, her brother-in-law started referring patients with dizziness to her. “I think you can help them the way you helped me,” he told her. He had often felt off balance, uncoordinated and struggled with reading. Dr. Feinberg’s prescription relieved all of that.
This was the start of her work in neuro-visual optometry, specifically vertical heterophoria (VH), a vertical misalignment of the eyes that can contribute to fatigue, dizziness and more. Patients can have VH congenitally or develop it after a fall or traumatic brain injury (TBI). This new path in her career took off quickly as word spread. Her brother-in-law alone has referred about 1,000 patients to her over the past 18 years, and she now has a network of about 100 referring practitioners. Her husband, Mark Rosner, MD, an emergency physician, started sending migraine patients who frequently visited the ER.
In 2004, she opened a specialty practice, Vision Specialists of Birmingham, which became Vision Specialists of Michigan when she moved it to Bloomfield Hills in 2011. She schedules about eight patients a day, with a typical exam lasting at least an hour or two. Her father, now 87, has joined her as one of her three associates.
In 2005, after the Detroit Free Press ran a story on her work, the floodgates opened. Patients would call, asking “How did you know my secret? I’ve been suffering from this for 10 years.” TBI patients began arriving at her practice after Dr. Feinberg diagnosed a TBI specialist with VH. “They responded beautifully to the prisms; some were able to start walking again without using their cane or walker,” she says, and their anxieties of falling disappeared when the dizziness did. Dr. Feinberg now also studies the link between VH and anxiety. Her husband presented a case series of 18 patients at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America Annual Meeting in 2012, noting that the patients in the study experienced an 80 percent reduction of symptoms. Some of these patients were even able to be weaned off anxiety drugs as a result of vision correction.
Dr. Feinberg wanted to reach patients directly by writing a book about VH. She got her wish when by chance her husband sat next to an author, Sherry Brantley, on a flight home from the American Optometric Association’s 2011 Optometry’s Meeting. The three collaborated on If the Walls of My Exam Room Could Talk: Stories of Triumph Over Vertical Heterophoria, a collection of personal stories from Dr. Feinberg’s patients published in February. Dr. Feinberg hopes the book will create greater awareness that this unusual combination of symptoms is often misdiagnosed, but easily treated.
Dr. Feinberg held a book-signing event in May, inviting patients, the community and those who shared their stories. She wants to release an audio version of the book, as well as an e-reader friendly version. For more information, visit vsofm.com/book.