Veteran finds open arms to help her see at UAB Eye Care

After 21 years of service, Natalie Vines was medically retired from the military due to severe vision issues caused by two traumatic brain injuries. With treatment from UAB Eye Care, Vines has seen improvement in her vision.  
Written by: Satina Richardson
Media contact: Brianna Hoge

Veteran 2Vines and her husband, Brian. Natalie Vines enlisted in the Army in 1991. Through the years, she had multiple combat deployments all over the world. After assignments in Texas, Washington and Haiti, she was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2009.

During her first tour in Baghdad, Iraq, Vines was injured by enemy mortar fire, causing a traumatic brain injury. In 2009, while deployed in Mosul, Iraq, she suffered a second TBI, which generated a seizure disorder, severe migraine headaches and vision issues. Most of her vision issues stemmed from the vestibular system, which includes parts of the inner ear and brain that process sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. Because Vines’ balance was affected, her physical activity was limited.

After 21 years of service and numerous years of dealing with these injuries, Vines brought her military career to an end, when she medically retired from the Army in 2013. 

In 2019, Vines and her husband moved to Alabama, where her care was transferred to the Birmingham Veterans Administration Medical Center. Due to her longtime vision challenges, she was referred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Eye Care’s mTBEye Clinic.

The mTBEye Clinic is a collaboration between Children’s of Alabama, UAB Medicine and area VA hospitals that focuses on consequences to the visual system following impact exposure.

“At UAB Eye Care, I have received outstanding care,” Vines said. “They have developed a team treatment approach to help my eyes recover from my combat injuries.” 

According to Vines, UAB Eye Care has both directly and indirectly changed her life in a positive way.  

Veteran 4UAB's VOR Clinic
Photography: Steve Wood
Vines participated in vestibular-ocular reflex testing through UAB’s VOR Clinic. The advanced high-torque, high-speed rotating chair for vestibular evaluation includes an integrated setup for visually driven oculomotor testing.

The VOR Clinic allowed Vines’ care team to evaluate how effectively her vestibular system was working with her vision following impact exposure. Vines’ eyes had to be retrained to work together and focus as one unit. The clinic taught her exercises to do at home to stabilize her eye movement and prescribed her the correct eye wear to improve her balance.

“Throughout my care, my team provided me with tools to improve my balance and eye movement that ultimately allowed me to resume physical activities that I love, especially outdoor activities,” Vines said. “The UAB eye doctors and staff are the best I have ever worked with. They have welcomed my medical service dog and me with open arms, and I feel appreciated, respected and listened to.”