Jessica Fulmer, left, and Miki (D'Angelo) Zilnicki, right, opened their optometry practice on Cranberry Street. Courtesy photo: Miki D'Angelo

When it comes to poor eyesight, eyeglasses don’t have to be the only solution.

A new optometry practice in Riverhead is introducing comprehensive vision therapy to the East End for the first time, providing non-surgical alternatives for many common eye problems like lazy eye, double vision and crossed eyes.

“I’m really excited to bring really great eye care to the community where I grew up,” said owner Miki D’Angelo, who graduated from Riverhead High School in 2006.

In addition to standard eye examinations and eyeglass prescriptions, Twin Forks Optometry will also be specializing in vision therapy, a treatment that has not been available anywhere east of Lake Ronkonkoma until D’Angelo opened her practice this week with partner Jessica Fulmer.

D'Angelo and Fulmer met during school and have both worked with victims of traumatic brain injury. Photo: Courtesy of Miki D'Angelo
D’Angelo and Fulmer met during school and have both worked with victims of traumatic brain injury. Photo: Courtesy of Miki D’Angelo

Similar to physical therapy, vision therapy is conducted over a period of several months and involves eyesight exercises that help retrain the patient’s visual pathways. In addition to correcting muscular eye issues such as lazy or crossed eyes, vision therapy is used to rehabilitate victims of concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Children with learning disabilities and reading difficulties can also benefit from the results of vision therapy, D’Angelo says.

“A lot of kids that get diagnosed with ADHD have underlying visual issues,” she said. “Kids aren’t really able to express that they’re seeing blurry or double. They don’t really know how to say that, so they avoid their work or they act out instead.”

D’Angelo received extensive training in vision therapy during her residency at a New Jersey optometry practice, where she worked with TBI victims to correct damage to their vision sustained as a result of their injury.

“When a TBI patient comes to me and says, ‘I can finally do this or that and it’s because of your help,’ that’s just so rewarding,” D’Angelo said. “It’s great to be able to do whatever we can to make them more comfortable.”

Vision therapy can also significantly impact a child’s academic future when an eyesight problem is caught early enough.

“Learning is 80 percent visual,” D’Angelo said. “So if your vision isn’t up to par, it sets you back at a very early age.”

She added that many parents don’t know to bring their young children in for basic eye examinations, never mind consider corrective treatment like visual therapy.

“Most parents don’t bring their kids to get their eyes checked until the school does a screening and they realize their child has a problem,” she said. “The child will be in kindergarten or first grade, and the parents will realize that their kid hasn’t been able to see for five years.”

Twin Forks Optometry opened Monday on Cranberry Street off of Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead. Photo: Courtesy of Miki D'Angelo
Twin Forks Optometry opened Monday on Cranberry Street off of Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead. Photo: Courtesy of Miki D’Angelo

Twin Forks Optometry offers its services for children as young as six months. D’Angelo and Fulmer are also both part of the InfantSEE public health program, which makes eye examinations free for any infant between the age of six months and one year old.

Though vision therapy is not a new treatment, its benefits to children with learning and reading disabilities has garnered it some attention in recent years. “If you catch them early enough, you can take a C student and make them an A student,” D’Angelo said.

Vision therapy is covered under some medical health insurance plans, but it is not usually covered under vision plans. Twin Forks Optometry offers its own plan for those without coverage. “We try to make it as easy as possible for our patients to receive the care they need,” D’Angelo said.

The optometry practice also offers treatment for dry eye, diabetic care, macular degeneration and glaucoma in addition to standard eye examinations.

D’Angelo, a lifelong Riverhead resident, says she is excited to be returning to her roots and bringing her skills back home.

“I love that I’m back in Riverhead and being able to provide for my community,” she said. “We can all agree that, being out on the East End, there’s not so much up-to-date medical care out here. We always have to travel west.

“It’s rewarding to be able to elevate the standard of optometric care out here.”

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