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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Washington Post: A Career In The Balance

Was blind but now can see?

Donatelli trains willing athletes to improve their vestibular system — colloquially known as the inner ear, the system that controls balance. That system aids the eyes in focusing on a target even while the body and head are moving. Dysfunction in the vestibular system can affect an athlete’s ability to see things in motion, such as a baseball hurtling his way while his head and body are rotating to hit it.

Head trauma can cause dysfunction in the vestibular system. Uggla was hit in the head by a pitch in July 2012 and again in the back of the head by a pitch during spring training in 2013. Uggla himself did not definitively classify his reaction as a concussion, and Donatelli said Uggla did not have the symptoms — dizziness, nausea, etc. — that would have alerted the Braves that any kind of severe head trauma had taken place.
.  .  .
When Uggla got there, Donatelli ran him through 12 tests that helped assess his vestibulo-ocular reflex. Uggla failed them all. Donatelli moved Uggla’s head to the left and right and asked him to read an eye chart. Uggla, who had Lasik surgery when he initially had trouble seeing the ball in 2012, had 20-15 static vision. With his head moving, that vision dropped to 20-100.

“I can’t tell when I’m sitting here talking to you. Before [going to Donatelli], I would think I can see you just fine,” said Uggla, who will turn 35 in March. “But I guess when I get on the baseball field and my head starts moving around . . . it was kind of bad.”

Donatelli pushed Uggla through exercises such as jumping on a trampoline blindfolded or reading while moving his head. Those movements isolated Uggla’s vestibular system and forced his eyes and inner ear to recalibrate.

If this can save the career of a wretch like Uggla . . .


 

 

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