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Vision Therapy Practice Fills Community Need

Angela Gulbranson, OD, returned to her hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after her graduation from
Indiana College of Optometry. After two years working in a primary care office, she decided to continue her education in pediatrics, binocular vision and vision therapy (VT) to bring these specialty services to the region. In 2002, she opened a small office and began drawing from a large radius. VT wasn’t readily available, and people living in the rural communities surrounding Sioux Falls were glad not to have to travel to Omaha or Minneapolis, three and four hours away, respectively. Dr. Gulbranson left her part-time, corporate-affiliated position after two years and moved the practice to its current home in 2004. “We combined primary care and VT here, and the practice evolved,” Dr. Gulbranson says.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of the VT patient base is children, and the biggest advocates have been parents of former VT
patients, other optometrists, teachers and occupational therapists (OTs). Dr. Gulbranson and staff connect with local ODs, OTs and physicians with regular mailing of letters and speaking to many different community groups. “I want to keep them informed about the different ways to treat conditions and what they should look for so that they know when to refer,” she says.

In 2009, Jennifer Hupke, OD, joined the team at Visions Eye Care & Vision Therapy Center. The two met at a local optometry meeting, and Dr. Gulbranson quickly became a professional resource and friend to Dr. Hupke. Dr. Hupke says that joining Dr. Gulbranson’s practice was the chance to pursue her passion for VT and pediatrics. “I wanted to be able to impact children’s lives and their future,” Dr. Hupke says.

Dr. Hupke focuses on working with children and vision and learning-related issues. “Some of the kids we see don’t understand the impact vision can have on their learning and schoolwork, and it can really start to affect their self-esteem,” she says. “I love my job and getting to see these kids blossom.”

The practice kept growing. In 2011, to accommodate the growing VT segment, Dr. Gulbranson opened another nearby office designated just for that specialty. Then in 2014, Ashley Gentrup, OD, joined the practice. Dr. Gentrup fondly remembers her childhood eye exams to monitor her strabismus, which led her to pursue optometry. At Southern College of Optometry, she first learned that VT would be able to help her as an adult. “It did improve my awareness of space and how my eyes were tracking,” Dr. Gentrup says. “I didn’t know that my eye turn had been affecting my reading.” She decided to concentrate in this area and says that she is excited to bring sports vision to the practice.

All three doctors rotate through both the therapy and primary care clinic, and while Dr. Gulbranson didn’t plan to have an all-female team, that’s how it ended up. “Most of us are working moms, and we have a very family-friendly atmosphere,” she says. VT as a reputable solution has grown, too. “Years ago, I saw more hesitation,” she says. “Today parents come in more educated, knowing that their children are struggling and that VT works. They don’t have a lot of objections.”

There are also five vision therapists on staff, and the offices are open Tuesday through Friday. Dr. Gulbranson hopes to add another doctor to the primary care area of the practice within the next year or so, so that the rest of them can dedicate more time to VT and reach more patients with concussions or who need sports vision therapy. She also hopes that one day she can bring both parts of the practice under one roof again.

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