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National Stroke Association
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NV Photo 3_rev.jpgDriving is something most adults do every day. Millions commute to work, take the kids to school and run errands. For a car salesman, driving is a big part of the job. From test drives to rotating the lot, car dealership employees spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

But, when the privilege of driving vanishes in an instant—because of a stroke—everything changes.

Dan Burke, 29, can give you a first-hand account. He sells cars for a living. In January 2008, he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke at just 25 years old.

During his morning workout, Dan suddenly experienced an extremely painful headache. “Take everybody’s headaches in the world,” Dan said, “and put them all together in a little ball. Cram that ball in my head and that’s the kind of headache I got.”

He decided to rest and took some Tylenol and a cold shower. He lost his vision in the shower, and was subsequently rushed to the hospital.

Dan had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke—sometimes described as a blow-out or breakage of a blood vessel. The stroke resulted from an arteriovenous malformation, a rare, nonhereditary birth defect.

Dan’s stroke left him with temporary left-sided hemiparesis, a condition in which the whole left side of his body felt numb. But the more devastating after-effect was being left effectively blind. The left half of his visual field was completely lost, a condition called Homonymous Hemianopsia. And the only thing Dan saw on the right side of his visual field was color and light.

“Everything was a giant blur,” he said, “it was all a giant blur. That’s all it was.”

This new vision impairment was particularly hard for Dan because of his career and overall reliance on driving. “To me, my whole life was driving,” Dan said. “You take away driving out of your life—your whole means of independence is gone. I’ve been bumming rides since ’08.”

Other Common Hemianopsia Treatments

Stroke survivors with Hemianopsia benefit from the usage of mirrors, prisms or field expanded lens.

Another common treatment, known as eye movement therapy, involves training the eyes to search for visual information throughout the visual field.

» Download Stroke & Vision Loss brochure

Some stroke survivors with Hemianopsia benefit from the usage of mirrors, prisms or field expanded lens. Another common treatment, known as eye movement therapy, involves training the eyes to search for visual information throughout the visual field. In Dan’s case, that would entail his visual system to scan more effectively on the left side of his visual field.

Six months after his stroke, Dan consulted with a neuro-ophthalmologist, who told him that the Hemianopsia and severely blurred vision would remain for the rest of his life. Using prisms was not an option because the non-blind half of his visual field was extremely blurry.

Frustrated by this diagnosis, he did an Internet search on vision loss after stroke, which led him to discover information on vision restoration therapy, or VRT. VRT is offered exclusively through a company called NovaVision, and for Dan, it was his last hope at improving his post-stroke vision.

Photo of Dan doing vision restoration therapyVRT works by using flashing lights on a computer screen that stimulate partially functioning neural cells at the edge of the blinded area within the visual field. The therapy can be done at home and entails two 30-minute sessions per day for six months.

Reports of a 65 to 70 percent success rate of vision improvement following a stroke are what convinced Dan to undertake the VRT therapy. After completing a 6-month treatment plan, Dan's left-eye vision improved enough that he can read the 20/20 line at the eye doctor now.

Dan continues to do 6-month treatments, which helped him slightly expand his visual field about three degrees onto the mostly blinded left side.

For Dan, VRT significantly improved both his vision and post-stroke quality of life. He is now back to working full-time as a car salesman, can ride a bike and participates in a bowling league.

And, most importantly, “I’m driving, dude,” Dan says with the giddiness of a 16-year old getting behind the wheel for the first time. “I have independence now. I don’t have to rely on help from everybody on everything. I don’t need it.”

National Stroke Association provides educational information about treatments for post-stroke issues through real-life stories. Promotion of these stories does not imply endorsement of any product or service and is not intended to imply that regaining the ability to drive is guaranteed after treatment. Individual results vary and it is recommended that patients ask a healthcare professional before using any medicine or therapy.

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