by Satina Richardson

Natalie Vines has had a storied military career that includes multiple combat deployments that led to mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs). UAB Eye Care’s clinic that is dedicated to treating patients with brain injuries provided relief to Natalie’s vision issues that have long affected her quality of life.

Natalie, 50, enlisted in the Army in June 1991. Through the years, she had multiple assignments including the Republic of Korea, Military District of Washington, Fort Bragg, NC, Fort Hood, TX, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA. Natalie also had combat deployments to Haiti and two combat deployments to Iraq.

She was injured by enemy mortar fire while deployed to Bagdad, Iraq in 2005 and experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2009 while deployed in Mosul, Iraq.

The second head injury led not only to another TBI, but also to a seizure disorder, cognitive disorder, severe migraine headaches, vision issues, balance issues, back pain, and severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Consequently, she was medically retired from the Army in January 2013 after 21 years of service and assessed 100 percent disabled by the Army and Veterans Administration.

Medical care has been a constant in Natalie’s life since she sustained her injuries. She and her husband Brian, an Army veteran with 28 years of service who is also her full-time VA caregiver, have traveled her road to better health together.

The couple moved from the Villages, FL, to Ashville, AL, in 2019. Natalie’s care was then transferred to the Birmingham Veterans Administration Medical Center (BVAMC). Due to her longtime vision challenges, the BVAMC referred Natalie to UAB Eye Care’s mTBEye Clinic, led by Kathy Weise, OD/MBA, for eye and vision care since she was grappling with issues because of multiple TBIs.

UAB Eye Care’s mTBEye Clinic is part of a team approach with Children’s of Alabama, UAB Medicine, and area VA hospitals that focuses on consequences to the visual system following impact exposure. The mTBEye clinic also helps evaluate the brain through the visual system following concussion.  

Those diagnosed with mTBI and concussions are examined to assess eye teaming and tracking skills, focusing strength and accuracy and objective measures of neuro-ocular integrity, including state-of-the-art pupillometry and optical coherence tomography (OCT). Patients also have access to the VORClinic, led by Mark Swanson, OD. This VOR testing uses a VOR chair to evaluate how the vision and vestibular system work together (or not) following impact exposure. In Alabama, UAB Eye Care’s VOR chair is the only one of its kind available to the public.

“At UAB Eye Care, I have received outstanding care,” Natalie said. “They have developed a team treatment approach to help my eyes recover from my combat injuries. Throughout my care, the team was focused on fixing my eyesight so I could return to an active lifestyle.”

According to Natalie, UAB Eye Care has both directly and indirectly changed her life in a positive way. She is much more active now and able to enjoy wake surfing, running, and any outdoor activity.

“The UAB Eye doctors and staff are the best I have ever worked with,” Natalie said. “They have welcomed my medical service dog, Bugg and I with open arms. I feel appreciated, respected, and listened to. They have become more like family.”