Seven years after her last strabismus surgery, Veronica Blumer once again finds herself in the eye clinic. But this time around, it’s for a much different reason.
The 22-year-old from Monticello, Wis., has been in-and-out of hospitals, operating rooms and various clinics since birth.
“I was born two months early and had a brain bleed that caused hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid on the brain,” Blumer said. “I’ve had several surgeries on my brain to correct the issue throughout my lifetime, but it put a lot of pressure on my eyes and I developed double vision when I was 6.”
In 2007, Blumer’s vision issues brought her under the care of UW Health pediatric ophthalmologist Yasmin Bradfield, MD, who observed not only the double vision but diagnosed bilateral superior oblique palsy, which can be associated with hydrocephalus.
“She was trying to compensate for her double vision in downgaze by adopting a chin-down position to move her eyes up,” Bradfield said. “As a young child starting to read, that’s an extremely difficult issue to be dealing with.”
To correct the vision issues, Bradfield performed a complex strabismus surgery on Blumer to properly align her eyes. The procedure was successful in treating the double vision, and another surgery was performed 10 years later to maintain Blumer’s eye alignment.
Throughout those 10 years – and the many follow-up appointments during that time – both Blumer and her family developed a close relationship with Bradfield and a friendship developed. At one point, the Blumer family even learned what kind of coffee drink Bradfield liked best and made sure to hit up Starbucks prior to appointments.
“We always brought her cinnamon dolce lattes every time we came to the clinic,” Blumer said. “After my first surgery, we took a picture together, and she still has the picture to this day, which is really sweet.”
Since her last surgery in 2017, Blumer says her vision is now “pretty much perfect,” but plenty else has also changed in her life, including graduating from both high school and college, and recently landing her first job out of school.
Which is exactly why Blumer is back once again at the eye clinic: She’s now employed as a medical scheduler at UW Health’s University Station clinic, working alongside the staff that once treated her as a patient.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with medicine,” Blumer said, “and it’s always been my dream to work for UW Health. Ever since I was little, I wanted to work here.”
So when a recent opportunity arose to work a rotation in the pediatric clinic and see Bradfield again – this time as a colleague – Blumer jumped at the opportunity.
“I had tears in my eyes when I saw her,” she said. “And we got to take another picture together, which was just so cool.”
As for Bradfield, she says that she’s immensely proud of Blumer and is thrilled to watch her former patient find success in her personal and professional life.
“One of the rewards of being a pediatric ophthalmologist is having that long-term continuity with patients and their families,” she said. “In Veronica’s case, the surgical intervention and subsequent care really allowed her to succeed in school, to be able to drive a car safely and now to have a career in health care. It’s pretty amazing.”
As a medical scheduler, Blumer is often the first point of contact with ophthalmology patients, both in-person and over the phone. Frequently, patients have questions or express feelings of stress and anxiety over an unresolved medical issue. But Blumer says she’s in a unique position to help these patients.
After all, she’s been in their shoes.
“My past experience here really helps in handling patients, because you have an idea of what they’re going through and when they’re scared,” Blumer said. “Because it can be a pretty scary thing. I understand that and I think it helps me better relate with people.”
And while Blumer is happy to give back to patients in this way, she’s already looking ahead to how she can make an even bigger impact going forward.
“I really want to go into health care social work and hopefully help with communication between patients, doctors and their teams, because this place, UW Health, has always been so amazing with my family,” she said. “I really want to help patients like they helped us.”