For most of her life, Tracy Fuqua failed one particular eye examination each time she went to the optometrist’s office. It’s called the Stereo Fly Test. Using the image of a house fly, the test measures the ability of both eyes to see the same object as one image, a measure of a person’s depth perception.
Tracy failed the test regularly because she saw the world as flat due to an eye muscle problem that began in childhood. She had no depth perception – the ability to see things in three dimensions – length, width and depth – and to judge how far away an object is. Lack of depth perception is not only annoying, it is a safety hazard.
“If things aren’t marked, like the edges of curbs and steps, and you don’t have depth perception, you don’t know when the curb or stairs start and end,” she said.
But after more than 40 years, Tracy’s life changed thanks to the unique skills of Blessing Health ophthalmologist Senem Salar-Gomceli, MD, known to her patients as Dr. Salar. Tracy tearfully remembers her first examination after undergoing surgery.
“When Dr. Salar handed me the fly test that day, I already had it in my head that I would fail,” Tracy recalled. “But when she handed it to me, it looked like the fly was coming off the page. I started crying. I know I probably looked like a little girl, but I began trying to pull the fly’s wings in the picture. I had never seen the fly’s wings in all the times I took the test.”
Tracy’s outcome was rare. Most patients with her condition do not regain their depth perception, known as stereoacuity.
Why Tracy’s world was flat
Tracy had strabismus, commonly known as crossed eyes. In a person with strabismus, the eyes are not lined up properly and point in different directions. In Tracy’s case her strong eye moved normally but the weak eye drifted in, toward her nose.
Tracy also had a condition called amblyopia, a commonly known as “Lazy Eye.” It is caused by a breakdown in how the brain and the eye work together. For people with amblyopia, the brain can’t recognize the sight from one eye and over time relies on the stronger eye — while vision in the weaker eye gets worse. It’s called “lazy eye” because the stronger eye works better.
“It always bothered me,” she said. “When I talked to someone, there would be times that they did not know I was talking to them because it appeared I was not looking at them. People would ask me, ‘Are you talking to me?’”
Tracy’s vision gets worse
Strabismus can be treated surgically. Tracy had surgery 14 years ago when she lived in another town, and was warned at the time that it was not a permanent repair. The muscle in her weak eye would weaken again at some point in her life and would require a second surgery.
That point was fall 2021. Tracy, her family and her patients — she is a nurse in the radiation oncology department of the Blessing Cancer Center — noticed her weak eye was again drifting in toward her nose.
Tracy felt she needed surgery again, and quickly. Finding a surgeon 14 years ago who performed surgery for adult strabismus was difficult. She feared the same situation this time, as her original surgeon had retired.
Tracy learned that Blessing Health was developing a Vision Center at the Blessing Health Center 4800 Maine in Quincy, and Dr. Salar was joining the Center as a founding provider. Under Dr. Salar’s guidance, state of the art equipment with the latest technology was purchased, and ophthalmic technicians were hired and trained with Dr. Salar. In addition, new equipment was installed at the Blessing Surgery Center for the surgical ophthalmology care of Blessing patients.
How Dr. Salar changed Tracy’s life
Dr. Salar brought with her to the Blessing Vision Center special training in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus. Certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, Dr. Salar completed a fellowship at the University of Illinois in Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus. The Association of American Academy of Pediatric ophthalmology and Strabismus estimates only 3-to-4 of this level of specialty-trained ophthalmologists is available per million persons.
“I was ecstatic,” Tracy exclaimed as she prepared for surgery with Dr. Salar.
“Ocular motility disorders and adult strabismus is very interesting. It is like a puzzle, trying to figure out what exactly is going on with a patient’s ocular motility and oftentimes in their brain,” she said. “Treating adult strabismus is very rewarding. I have seen so many patients in tears, just like Tracy, after their eyes are aligned. The psychological and social impact of eye misalignment on these patients’ lives cannot be overestimated.”
Benefits of strabismus surgery include people feeling more comfortable with their appearance when their eyes look in the same direction, and some patients report improved depth perception and increase field of vision (seeing straight ahead and to the sides).
“Dr. Salar has changed my life,” Tracy said of the benefits of her surgery. “She has given me a whole new outlook, literally. The day after surgery, I cried in her exam room chair - tears of happiness of what I now knew I had been missing. We take so much for granted.”
For more information on the care provided by Dr. Salar and the services of the Blessing Vision Center, go to blessinghealth.org/visioncenter or call (217) 214-0454.