Optometrist Encounters Extraordinary Vision Problems at Special Olympics World Summer Games

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Dr. Kellye Knueppel knew that volunteering at the Special Olympics World Summer Games would be a thrill. She also knew it would put her optometric abilities to the test.

Dr. Kellye Knueppel of The Vision Therapy Center poses with a Special Olympics athlete.

Dr. Kellye Knueppel with a Special Olympics athlete from Morocco.

She saw more severe vision problems over a two-hour span at the Special Olympics than anything she’d see over five years at her vision therapy center.

At the recent Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, Wisconsin optometrist Dr. Kellye Knueppel found herself facing a professional challenge of Olympic proportions.

Dr. Knueppel, a developmental optometrist and vision therapy expert at The Vision Therapy Center in Brookfield, Wisconsin, was part of an elite group of eye-care volunteers from around the world selected to participate in the Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes program. Dr. Knueppel was chosen because of her ability to diagnose significant vision problems. In Athens, her skills were put to the test.

The Opening Eyes program provides Special Olympics athletes with vision screening and free prescription eyewear, sunglasses and sports goggles. Many of the athletes have poorly developed vision systems and significant vision issues.

As a vision therapist, Dr. Knueppel is accustomed to treating vision problems that elude typical vision screening processes. The cases in Greece were extreme, even by her standards. She saw more severe vision problems over a two-hour span at the Special Olympics than anything she’d see over five years at her vision therapy center. “Eye care in this population is often neglected despite the fact that they are more likely to have serious vision problems,” she said

She not only encountered significant vision problems, but also a hectic work schedule. There were 7,000 athletes, and Dr. Knueppel estimated her team screened nearly 2,100 of them. “Over the seven-day period, I performed refractions from 9am to 7pm,” she said. “As a group, we screened 200-300 athletes per day.”

Dealing with these types of vision issues makes her better equipped for the kind of difficult vision problems she sees on a daily basis at The Vision Therapy Center. It also helps her reach a population in desperate need of visual aid.

Athletes of the Special Olympics generally don’t receive the same eye-care that most people enjoy. The population tends to have lower incomes, and is generally under-served in terms of healthcare. The exam and the eyeglasses are donated, so athletes are provided with a service they generally wouldn’t receive. “It can be a life-altering service for many of these athletes,” Dr. Knueppel noted.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games ran for 10 days in Greece June 25 to July 4. Nearly 7,000 athletes from almost 180 countries participated. This was the sixth Special Olympics World Games for Dr. Knueppel; she’s previously volunteered in Ireland, China, Japan, Greece, as well as the United States (Alaska and Idaho).

Dr. Knueppel also hopes to be a part of the Winter Games in 2013 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “This is one of the most rewarding and challenging things I’ve done in my career,” she said. “I’m just fortunate I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of such a special program.”

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Greg Mischio
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