Eye Screening Identifies Veterans at Risk for Eye Disease - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System


Eye Screening Identifies Veterans at Risk for Eye Disease

A VA employee conducts an eye screening for a Veteran.

Teleretinal Imager Rebecca Wilson-Henrickson conducts an eye screening for Marine Corps Veteran Allen Gleaves at the Vinita VA Outpatient Clinic.

By Nathan Schaeffer
Thursday, August 16, 2012

Almost 21 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and an estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 have pre-diabetes, according to the American Optometric Association.

Those with diabetes and pre-diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. resulting in an estimated 12,000 to 24,000 new cases each year.

As a pre-diabetic, Marine Corps Veteran Allen Gleaves is among the estimated 75 million Americans who are at risk for diabetic retinopathy.  Once a year, he drives 60 miles from his home in Baxter Springs, Kan., to the Vinita VA Outpatient Clinic in neighboring Oklahoma to get a Teleretinal Imaging screening, which detects diabetic retinopathy.

At the clinic, Teleretinal Imager Rebecca Wilson-Henrickson uses a special camera to take pictures of patients’ eyes and then sends the photos to a teleretinal imaging reading center at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in Little Rock, Ark., which determines if Veterans need a follow-up appointment with a VA optometrist.

Wilson-Henrickson is also trained to notice abnormalities.  During Gleaves’ eye screening on June 26, she noticed one.

A few weeks prior to his appointment, Gleaves had open-heart surgery at a local, private hospital.  While the surgery was successful, a piece of plaque had become dislodged from his heart and traveled to his eye.

Following normal protocol, Wilson-Henrickson sent an image of Gleaves’ eye to Little Rock, which instructed her to schedule an appointment for Gleaves with a VA optometrist the following day.

While it was determined that the plaque was not serious and his body would naturally remove it, Gleaves and his wife Sharon praised Wilson-Henrickson for noticing the potential problem during the Teleretinal Imagining exam.

“We would have not known that had we not come here and gotten the screening,” said Sharon Gleaves. “What I am so thrilled about is that she actually found this particular thing that was wrong in the eye and was very concerned and gave us all of the information.  If I had questions, I called her.”

The story is an illustration that anyone can have a potential eye problem and not know it.

“We take our vision for granted and we never really think about it until we have a problem,” said Wilson-Henrickson. “Then when we have a problem it can be too late for treatment.”

Wilson-Henrickson said some Veterans with diabetes and pre-diabetes don’t express substantial interest in managing their condition until they find their vision can be affected.

“I have it all the time, all the time,” she said. “We even have patients who are pre-diabetic that can actually already have hemorrhaging going on in the back of their eye before they’re even diagnosed as a full blown diabetic.”

Wilson-Henrickson said some Veterans are afraid to get the exam, because they’re afraid of bad news about their eyesight.

“Patients are apprehensive to come in for their annual eye exams when they’re diabetic,” said Wilson-Henrickson. “Number one, I think it’s fear.  The Teleretinal Imaging program alleviates a lot of that fear, because we provide them with a great deal of education.  They’re able to view their images and look at their own retina, find out what it looks like, how it functions and the importance of eye health care in diabetes.”

The Teleretinal Imagining exam is non-invasive and does not require dilation.  Gleaves said Veterans should not be afraid of the screening.

“It’s not painful to begin with,” said Greaves.  “Don’t be afraid of it.  Rebecca (Wilson-Henrickson) is very good at it.  She explains so many things I didn’t even know about.”

Along with the Vinita VA Outpatient Clinic, the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center also offers the Teleretinal Imagining screening at the hospital in Muskogee and VA Outpatient Clinics in Hartshorne and Tulsa.  If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, talk to your Primary Care physician about the screening.  The Diabetic Eye Clinics at the Muskogee hospital and Hartshorne, Tulsa and Vinita Clinics also take walk-ins.


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