Optometrist has eye on vets’ vision problems

By Rachael Scarborough King
Nov. 28, 2007

GUILFORD — For many Americans, the image of a visually impaired soldier returning from war is of a person with bandages wrapped around his injured eyes.

But people with traumatic brain injuries may score perfectly reading an eye chart and still have double vision or see words moving on a page. These problems, which doctors can have difficulty diagnosing and treating, have life-altering effects.

One local optometrist, William Padula, has spent a career researching the links between traumatic brain injuries and vision problems. Now, he is seeing some of his work parlayed into federal legislation that aims to help soldiers returning from war with vision problems.

Padula, who runs the Padula Institute of Vision and has treated soldiers and veterans from across the region, called traumatic brain injuries “the signature injury coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.” They occur when roadside bombs or mortars explode, sending out shock waves that can cause neurological problems, even if there are no outward signs of injury.

“Even though there are eye injuries coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of the soldiers don’t have eye injuries, they have traumatic brain injuries that are causing these brain-processing problems in the visual area,” he said. “To look at them, they look normal, but the visual processing area has become dysfunctional, and it can affect how they talk, how they behave, how they move.”

Since the start of the war, 13 percent of the 9,000 seriously wounded soldiers evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered physical injuries to their eyes, according to the Blinded Veterans Association.

At the same time, R. Cameron VanRoekel, an optometrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said almost one-third of all the soldiers treated at the hospital had traumatic brain injuries. He estimated that, of that group, 50 percent to 70 percent had problems seeing and reading.

About two years ago, Padula visited Walter Reed to talk with the eye doctors there about the vision problems they were encountering in injured soldiers. He and two other doctors then applied for a grant that made its way to the Blinded Veterans Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, and to the office of Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass.

In August, Kerry sponsored the Neuro-Optometric Center of Excellence bill, which would provide $5 million for the Department of Defense to set up a “center of excellence in prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment and rehabilitation of military eye injuries.”

The legislation calls for creation of a registry that would track the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related eye injuries, and specifically would set up research at Walter Reed into the screening and diagnosis of “visual dysfunction related to traumatic brain injury.”

The Kerry-sponsored legislation passed the Senate as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill in October.

The bill has a House counterpart, whose chief sponsor is Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark., an optometrist. That legislation, known as the Military Eye Trauma Treatment Act, has not come to the floor of the House and could also wind up as part of the next Defense authorization bill, according to Boozman’s office.

Tom Zampieri, director of government relations for the Blinded Veterans Association, said his organization was “alarmed” that it could not find a firm number for how many soldiers have suffered eye injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. He approached Kerry’s office with the idea of creating a way to track them.

“The blast injuries for these service members who are protected by the body armor in this war — they survive, but they sustain severe extremity injuries and facial injuries,” Zampieri said. “The soldiers wear protective eyewear goggles, but these explosions are so powerful that they rip vehicles apart, so you’re not going to be able to protect the eyes.”

While his organization deals mainly with soldiers and veterans with eye injuries, Zampieri said a second part of the bill addresses the growing awareness of the relationship between traumatic brain injury and poor vision.

Col. Francis McVeigh, chief of the optometry service at Walter Reed, said that starting in summer 2005, doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs identified some of the traumatic brain injury-related problems, including blurry vision, difficulty concentrating and a perceived shift in the visual midline. McVeigh decided to investigate further and started talking with a group of optometrists from across the country, including Padula.

“The problem was identified, we sought help from the experts in the field (and) we listened to them,” McVeigh said. “Our egos are small — our priority is taking care of the patient.”

He added that there are about 2 million traumatic brain injuries nationally every year — from causes like car accidents and falls — but before the start of the war Walter Reed had not dealt with many of them.

Padula said that, with his own patients, he has identified and researched two syndromes related to traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic vision syndrome and visual midline shift syndrome. Both can be treated by the patient wearing special types of lenses and prisms that eventually can correct the problem, he added.

“Many will be rehabilitated, (but) it’s not a cure — it’s not like taking an aspirin and your headache goes away,” he said. “It becomes a part of the multi-disciplinary team treating the person with the head injury.”

Rehabilitation for people with traumatic brain injury should include a variety of health professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, orthopedists, psychologists and optometrists, Padula said.

“My hope is that these bills will create services for our courageous men and women (in the armed forces), but that it’s also going to raise the awareness of the millions of people in the U.S. who have traumatic brain injuries,” he said. “The two bills will create a very comprehensive approach to treating all eye injuries.”

Doctors at Walter Reed have already begun implementing similar practices. VanRoekel said he talks to almost all the hospital’s patients with traumatic brain injuries, blast injuries or amputations to see if they have undiagnosed visual complications. He added that the legislation’s passage would help him continue and expand some of the screening and training he has started.

Padula said he was gratified to be included in the work, to which several doctors contributed, and to see some of his research make its way to Congress. McVeigh added that many people have worked with Walter Reed at their own expense to try to address the problem.

“I guess that’s one of the bright shining lights that make you proud of your profession and your colleagues,” McVeigh said. “When push comes to shove and you raise that flag, they were there for us, and it brought tears to my eyes.”

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City protest draws 100 over parole ban

By Rachael Scarborough King
Nov. 27, 2007

NEW HAVEN — A crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the Whalley Avenue jail Monday to protest a statewide parole ban for violent offenders that the governor’s office put in place in response to the triple homicide in Cheshire in July.

Participants at the rally called the ban a racist move that results in punishing people who were not involved in the Cheshire murders.

With the state legislature scheduled to hold public hearings today on proposals to reclassify home invasions as violent crimes and build new prisons, among other changes to state crime statutes, organizers called on people to travel to Hartford to express their opposition.

Two men who were out of prison on parole at the time, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, are charged with murdering Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her 11- and 17-year-old daughters during a home invasion in July.

Protesters Monday chanted and held signs with slogans like “Books Not Bars,” “Schools Not Jails” and “Their ‘Reform’ Ruins Lives.” Among the speakers were leaders from local community organizations, state Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven, and several people who said they have family members currently in prison.

Barbara Fair, one of the event’s lead organizers, said she was “very pleased” with the turnout Monday.

“People came out in the middle of the evening and the wet and rainy (weather),” Fair said. “They still made it out because they know it’s an important issue for them.”

Fair said that she is organizing drivers to take people to Hartford for today’s hearing at 1 p.m.

Sheldon Tucker told the crowd he would have liked to see more in attendance.

“Let’s not come out one night and then we go back to our regular lives until the next big thing happens,” Tucker said. “I’m so glad everyone came out here, but I should not be able to see the corner (from the middle of the block).”

Greg Smith, co-chairman of the New Haven Democratic Town Committee in Ward 2, said that those at the protest should send a message to their state and local representatives through voting.

“My concern is that at the end of the day, it’s your votes that are really going to make the difference,” Smith said. “As much as I love to see a lot of people come out and voice your opinion, we still need to see you at the polls.”

Two of those in the audience Monday, Nitza De La Paz and Veronica Matos, said that they have been directly affected by the parole ban.

De La Paz said that her husband is in jail after having been scheduled to be released Oct.1, and Matos said that her boyfriend is in a similar situation.

“It’s affecting me emotionally, financially, and it’s frustrating,” De La Paz said.

Matos said that her boyfriend was originally supposed to be released at the beginning of November.

“We have no control over everything that’s going on, all because two guys did something that was wrong,” she said. “Why should (my boyfriend) have to pay for it?”

Adoption: Another word for love

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Nov. 18, 2007

NEW HAVEN — The quiet waiting room at New Haven Regional Children’s Probate Court on State Street quickly filled with children’s excited voices Friday morning as two families celebrated their new members.

Saturday was National Adoption Day, and the day before, families across the state opened up what is normally a private occasion: the finalization of their children’s adoptions. In New Haven, the McCabes and the Shoreys adopted 2-month-old Callum Elias and 4-year-old Pedro, respectively.

November is National Adoption Month.

Allyson McCabe, who officially adopted Callum Friday, said the state Department of Children and Families asked her and her partner, Megan McCabe, to participate in the events.

“Symbolically, we thought that that was a good idea, and he was born in September, so it was close to his birth date,” Allyson McCabe said. Megan McCabe is Callum’s biological mother, and Allyson legally adopted him to formalize her parental status.

The McCabes’ attorney, Michele Parrotta, said that Connecticut has strong laws for same-sex parents. For example, both Allyson and Megan McCabe’s names appear on Callum’s birth certificate. But Allyson McCabe added that their civil union status does not extend to other states, and if she needed to make decisions about medical issues while outside Connecticut, she would not be recognized as Callum’s parent without the adoption.

“I think a lot of people have the false impression that civil union and marriage are equivalent, but they’re in no way equivalent, so this is a progressive but small step toward parity,” she said.

While the McCabes, who live in New Haven, welcomed their first child, Crystal and Wayne Shorey of East Haven added to their large family. The Shoreys already have three children, who crowded into the courtroom to witness their brother’s adoption.

Pedro shyly answered Judge Michael Brandt’s questions about the day’s events and the pets he has at home. Pedro has been living on and off with the Shoreys for about two years, they said.

“We’re going to legally recognize this relationship that you have with your sister, your brothers (and) your mom and dad,” Brandt said. “You already have that relationship. I couldn’t create that relationship by signing a piece of paper, but legally I need to sign that piece of paper.”

Brandt gave Pedro a commemorative copy of his certificate of adoption, a gift card for Friendly’s restaurant and a book titled “Adoption is Another Word for Love.”

“You guys have a big family and a lot of pets and a lot of love, so enjoy it,” Brandt said.

As Pedro showed the certificate to his sister, Samantha, she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s so cool — high five!” Afterward, everyone was treated to cake and cookies in the court’s balloon-festooned waiting room.

Wayne Shorey said there are many children in Connecticut, especially older kids, who are waiting for homes. He and his wife’s other children — 14-year-old Nicholas, 8-year-old Samantha and 6-year-old Alex — were all, at the youngest, in the toddler stage when they joined the family.

Crystal Shorey added that Friday was a special day for them.

“It’s a beginning and it’s the happy day and it just means a lot to us, and it means a lot to him,” Crystal Shorey said. “Adoption is a wonderful thing. Regardless of whether they’re biological or not, they’re your children.”

After adopting their fourth child, the Shoreys said they have not decided whether Pedro will be the last.

“I don’t know — we’ll see,” Crystal Shorey said, laughing. “They come and they don’t leave.”

2 principals to resign in No. Branford

By Rachael Scarborough King
Nov. 16, 2007

NORTH BRANFORD — It was a night of goodbyes for the Board of Education Wednesday, as Superintendent of Schools Robert Wolfe announced the resignations of two elementary school principals, and thanked three outgoing board members for their work.

Totoket Valley Elementary School Principal Nancy Brittingham and Stanley T. Williams School Principal Karen Johnson will be leaving their positions in the coming months, Wolfe said.

Brittingham will continue through the end of the school year, while Johnson will leave at the end of December.

Wolfe said that Johnson, who has been with the North Branford schools about 10 years, is moving to North Carolina for reasons related to her husband’s career.

Johnson could not attend Wednesday’s meeting because of parent conferences at Stanley T. Williams School, which serves kindergarten through second grade.

“Karen was knowledgeable about so many tasks,” Wolfe said. “I wish her and her husband a wonderful new life in the South.”

Brittingham is retiring after nearly 40 years in education, Wolfe said.

She has worked in North Branford for 14 years.

Totoket Valley is a third- through fifth-grade school.

Wolfe called Brittingham a “consummate professional.”

“She has brought a wealth of knowledge to this particular school,” he said. “She is very clinical in her ability to recognize and help teachers.”

Outgoing board Chairwoman Cheryl Smith told Brittingham that she was an asset when Smith first moved to the area and visited the school with her daughter.

“It made for a very smooth transition because you were so happy to see her, even though she was a complete stranger child, so thank you,” Smith said.

Brittingham said she told the staff at Totoket Valley about her resignation Wednesday morning.

“It’s been a wonderful place to land here for the last 14 years,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from my students and my staff and my colleagues, and I hope I’ve taught a little as well.”

The Board of Education voted to accept both resignations.

Wolfe said that a search committee will be formed to fill both positions, with the starting date for the jobs in July 2008.

That means the board will have to appoint an interim principal for Stanley T. Williams School.

Wednesday’s meeting was also the last for board members Smith, Elisabeth Caplan and Ron Haskins.

Newly elected members Deborah Prunier, R. Chris Manna, both Democrats, and Republican Nancy Lappie will fill their positions.

17 trees planted in Guilford

By Rachael Scarborough King
Nov. 16, 2007

GUILFORD — The downtown Green and surrounding areas got a little greener this week as workers planted 17 trees in a townwide effort.

The Guilford Garden Club initiated the program, dubbed “The Greening of Guilford”. Several local businesses purchased trees. The effort, in conjunction with the town, includes care of the trees and new plantings every year for five years.

Lillian Comstock, tree chairwoman of the garden club, said the club funded some of the trees and 10 local businesses donated the rest. Each tree cost $400, which included the planting fee.

“The board (of the garden club) agreed to the planting of four new trees to kick off this program,” Comstock said. “In order to augment the number of trees our club could plant, I thought of asking businesses and organizations in town to join us in a joint effort.”

Nicholas Vallas, a certified arborist with The Care of Trees in Hamden, oversaw the plantings Monday and Tuesday. He said that he planted several different varieties of trees, from ornamentals to ones that could eventually reach 60 feet tall. The three trees in the northern part of the Green are a mountain silver beech, a red maple and a Pepperidge tree.

“We’re trying to establish trees and still keep open space (on the Green),” Vallas said. “Trees do provide many benefits.”

In addition to the three on the Green, other trees were planted on nearby Union, River and Whitfield streets. The town’s tree warden, Leslie Kane, selected the specific sites.

Comstock said she first brought the idea to other garden club members last spring.

“The inspiration was reading about towns and cities across the country who are planting trees because of a greater awareness of serious global and environmental issues,” she said. “We felt that a tree-planting program would benefit all of us — trees clean the air, absorb carbon dioxide and provide shade during the hot summer months.”

Vallas said installing each tree took a few hours. The trees range from 8 to 15 feet in height.

“The fall’s actually a good time of the year for many trees because the first really hard season for a tree is the summer, so by planting it in the fall we have three seasons before it hits its hard season,” Vallas said.

He added that his firm will begin inspecting the trees on a monthly basis in the spring and will increase their visits to twice a month in the summer. Trees usually “go dormant” in the winter, he said, so they don’t need as much care during those months.

Comstock said the garden club’s contribution to the tree planting was funded by the group’s annual fund-raiser, the Joys of Christmas Boutique. This year, the boutique, at which residents can buy wreaths and holiday gifts, will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 at St. George Church in Guilford.

The businesses that donated trees, she said, were Wilber & King Nurseries, Hawley Lincoln Funeral Home, Leisure Markets Travel, Land Rover of Guilford, Guilford Savings Bank, Ram Technologies, New Alliance Bank, the Guilford Rotary Club, Wal-Mart and Palumbo’s Automotive Unlimited. The garden club plans to continue the initiative next year and invite more companies to donate trees.

Town Council amends meeting schedule

By Rachael Scarborough King
Nov. 16, 2007

NORTH BRANFORD — The Town Council took care of some housekeeping as new members were sworn in at the body’s regular meeting this week.

Councilmen voted unanimously to return to a twice-a-month meeting schedule. The council had been holding one regular meeting a month and one workshop, at which members discussed some of the larger projects they were handling.

Mayor Michael Doody said he thought the month between meetings at which votes were taken was too long.

“Once a month is kind of long, especially if there’s any pressing issues that have to be done or have to be approved,” Doody said. “If the meetings are every two weeks apart, we’ll be on top of it more.”

The council’s regular meetings will now be held on the first and third Monday of every month, Town Manager Karl Kilduff said.

He added that the workshops had been used to discuss long-range projects and to talk about setting goals. “The workshop forum provided them an opportunity to learn about issues and focus on maybe one topic at a time in an informal setting,” Kilduff said. “It’s a helpful tool to get them to focus on a given project or task.”

Doody said the council will continue to hold workshops, either before regular meetings or in special sessions, as the need arises.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council decided to postpone appointing a new town attorney until the next meeting in December. Members also set up a subcommittee to handle hiring a new town manager. Kilduff announced last week that he will leave in early January for a job in Darien.

Kilduff said the subcommittee, consisting of Councilmen Paul Calamita, Andrew Bozzuto and Vincent Caprio, will first approve an advertisement for a trade publication and local media.

Kilduff added that he thinks the council will have a short list of candidates by the end of the year.

No. Branford’s growth may bring changes

Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
11/13/2007

NORTH BRANFORD — Democrats are still celebrating their gains in last week’s election, in which the party won a majority on the nine-member Town Council for the first time in 30 years.

At the same time, Democratic Mayor Andrew Esposito lost his post to Republican Michael Doody by four votes. Under North Branford’s electoral system, voters choose from a group of people running for the council and the top vote-getter among them becomes mayor.

With three more votes than Esposito, Joanne Wentworth retained her role as deputy mayor, meaning that both the mayor and deputy mayor will be Republicans. A recount Saturday verified the tallies.

Looking at the election results, Democrats and Republicans said they are hoping to work together to advance a number of town projects in the coming months. But some politicians said they think the town should consider revising its charter and creating a stronger mayoral position sometime in the future.

“We have outgrown the form of government we presently have,” Esposito said. “Back when the population was 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 people, it worked, but with the population we have now (of about 14,500), there’s a lot more people (and) they should be deciding who they want for the true town leader with a mayor or selectmen form of government.”

Esposito said that, as a Democratic mayor with a Republican-majority council, he felt his “hands were tied” in some circumstances. He added that he is “ecstatic” that the Democrats now have a majority, but he thinks both parties will continue to cooperate.

“We’re all friends and neighbors — we have to work together,” he said. “We’ve got a great council now as we did in the past, and I look forward to working with each and every one of them.”

Doody said that he does not think the majority change will have a big effect on the council, and he could not name any recent 5-4 votes on controversial issues.

“I think the council’s been working great over the last two years and we know there’s big projects in front of us that we have to get accomplished,” Doody said. “I think everybody’s going to work together.”

The mayor’s role, he said, is to set the council agendas and conduct meetings. He added that he thinks the current system works well.

“We elect nine people to the Town Council, so I don’t know how you separate it out (and) what criteria you’re going to use for the person running for mayor,” Doody said. “It could get confusing, so I’d rather see it stay (that) we elect nine council people and the winner gets the most votes. Another spin on it is, does the council choose to elect its own representative or mayor?”

North Branford’s form of government is also unique in the shoreline area because it employs a town manager. While some cities in Connecticut and many across the country have a manager, many people in this area are not familiar with the setup.

Town Manager Karl Kilduff, who recently announced his resignation, said his role to conduct is the day-to-day administration of the town’s business, while the council sets large-scale and long-term policies.

Kilduff said that having a paid town administrator provides continuity between political terms. He makes about $104,000 a year, while the Town Council members work part time and are unpaid.

“There’s integrity in the decision-making process that decisions are made based on the best interests of the community rather than short-term advantage,” he said.

“It makes sure that as government becomes more and more complex with mandates and other requirements placed on us at the federal and state level, that we have a professional providing a degree of leadership for the community.”

He added that the city manager system is “the most popular form of government across the U.S.”

“While it’s unique in this region, it’s not unique in this country, and it’s something that North Branford should take pride in because it’s provided stability for 36 years,” Kilduff said.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jerry Juliano said he thinks the town’s leader should be an elected official.

He added that his party has been discussing the idea of having a charter revision in a few years to look at North Branford’s election rules.

Juliano said that a structure “where the mayor is the head man and he makes the decisions, not the town manager … has more of a bite.”

But Doody said that, even in places with a strong mayor or board of selectmen system, the town often hires a finance director or similar position. North Branford’s council has a good handle on what is going on in the town, he said.

“Some places … lose focus that the town council answers to the public for the business of the town,” he said.

“Sometimes in different places the town managers take more control and will let the council sit in the background, (while in) some places the town council likes to take control and just have the manager run the day-to-day business, so it varies.”