New vision therapy helps UA softball star

With any head injury,  symptoms can linger for years and sometimes go undetected.  In fact, one University of Arizona softball Stacie Chambers suffered a head injury and is still suffering years later.

"People were telling me I was okay," Chambers said. "But, I didn't feel okay."

Stacie was enjoying her first year at Arizona when she was hit in the face with a foul ball while batting.  "I remember it was a night game, a full count and that's all I remember," she said.

Some athletes are fine after a week or two following a concussion.  Coach Mike Candrea thought Stacie should be too.  After months of problems, he knew something was wrong. "I remember having a meeting with our team to talk about what Stacie was going through. It was very frustrating for all of us," Candrea said.

Stacie thought she was okay but realized she couldn't focus on objects that were less than two feet away.  A critical tool needed when hitting and when you're behind the plate catching 65 mile/hour fastballs.   She began striking out more at the plate and in her classes.  "I would go to class and wouldn't remember anything moments later," She said.

Sometimes, acting out of character is a symptom too.  Stacie admitted to taking up smoking and drinking as an outlet and was suspended from the team for a time.

After talking and visiting with a number of neurologists and other doctors, Candrea gave Optometrist and Developmental Therapist Tanya Polec a try.  She specializes in helping head trauma victims with vision therapy.

"People may see double, have headaches, see words floating on a page," Polec said. "These are symptoms of a head injury and we can help with therapy. We can retrain the eyes to make those connections again in the brain."

Stacie has at least one session a week with Polec performing tasks like target shooting on a Wii game system, swinging at a moving ball on a string and tracking an approaching object.  "Stacie is highly motivated," Polec said.  "It's no wonder she's such an elite athlete."

After 18 months of therapy, Stacie  has seen tremendous improvements on the field and in the class room.  In fact, Stacie will likely become the career homerun queen this weekend.  She's smashed 84 balls over the fence and has at least two more games to match the mark with a showdown with California at Hillenbrand stadium.

Stacie's improvement has even prompted Candrea to get other players checked out by the doctor and it's already helped. "Dr. Polec was able to tell me how certain players may perform on the field by an exam in her office," Candrea said.  "I know this works and I'd like to see this used on not just our players but others at the University."

Stacie and her teammates are more focused than ever.  After all, they have another National title in their sites.