During her time at Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), Alaina Bandstra, OD, realized how much one of her younger brothers could have benefited from vision therapy (VT). He had several severe concussions as a toddler, and while he is thriving now, she remembers how he struggled during school. “Those troubles changed his life,” she recalls. This discovery was one of the turning points that led her towards pursuing VT as the main focus of her career so that she could impact the young lives of patients who faced challenges like her brother.
After her 2017 ICO gradation, Dr. Bandstra chose to stay in the Chicago area instead of returning to her hometown in rural Iowa. “My entire family is from there, so I had a strong support system. It’s been a bit of an adjustment,” she admits. Yet returning home to practice didn’t quite align with her career goals. In many rural communities—as in the one where she was raised—the OD in town has to offer a range of services because there are no specialists. “I wanted to put my energy into one area of optometry that I love,” she says, so that meant staying in a larger area where she could focus more on VT.
Some family members have since moved closer to her, easing that transition of relocating. Plus, her employer made her feel at home. During her residency in pediatrics and binocular vision at ICO, she worked with Dominick Maino, OD, who introduced her to Stephanie Lyons, OD. When she met Dr. Lyons and her husband John Lyons at Lyons Family Eye Care, “we really clicked, and it all fell into place nicely,” she recalls.
The family-focused practice needed an OD for part-time work with the opportunity to become full-time. Dr. Bandstra started in the Lakeview office after her residency in 2018, and she provides some primary and medical eye care with approximately 50 percent to 60 percent of each day focusing on VT progress evaluations and monitoring eyewear prescriptions for patients who are about to start therapy.
She says that she’s thankful to have joined such an amazing therapy team of ODs and vision therapists and for the opportunity to pursue an area that she’s passionate about. Dr. Bandstra also frequently refers back to her experiences from her residency, as well as the notes, reference papers and articles she collected during that time. She knows that the ICO faculty is just a phone call away if she has a tough case. “My confidence was built on the variety and complexity of those cases during my residency that were unique.”