When developmental optometrist Dr. Kellye Knueppel was recruited to become Clinical Director for the Opening Eyes program with Special Olympics Wisconsin, little did she know the position would turn her into a globetrotter who would be sent to help athletes from all over the world with their vision.
Since she was first trained at the World Winter Games in Alaska in 2001, Dr. Knueppel has worked Special Olympics World Games in Ireland, Japan, China, Idaho, Greece, Korea, Los Angeles and just this year, Austria.
When not helping improve the vision of the world’s best Special Olympics athletes from the far reaches of the globe, Dr. Knueppel works out of The Vision Therapy Center, which has locations in Brookfield and Madison. Since opening The Vision Therapy Center in 1995, Dr. Knueppel has established herself as a leading figure in the field of optometry.
Dr. Knueppel was named Optometrist of the Year in 2006 by the Wisconsin Optometric Association and has been honored by Special Olympics Wisconsin in 2005 with the Organization of the Year Award and in 2010 with the Award of Excellence.
In the 30 events she has overseen in Wisconsin, Dr. Knueppel and her team have screened 7,611 athletes and given out 6,032 pairs of glasses!
“Over the years we have identified many athletes in need of glasses and/or further vision care who were not aware that they had a vision problem. It is awesome to hear from the athletes when the glasses we prescribe improve their lives,” Dr. Knueppel said.
In addition to identifying athletes in need of glasses, Dr. Knueppel and her team have used their expertise in Functional Vision Exams to make prescription modifications for many athletes who were already wearing glasses but struggling with discomfort or pain due to high-power prescriptions that are common in special needs populations.
“With the special knowledge we have in using functional testing, it has been very rewarding to be able to prescribe glasses for some of the athletes who have had a very difficult time with glasses in the past,” Dr. Knueppel said.
Athletes like Alex Myers, who refused to wear his glasses due to discomfort until Dr. Knueppel diagnosed him in 2012 as having severe astigmatism that made it difficult to see out of his right eye. Since then, Alex has happily worn his glasses. Opening Eyes and Dr. Knueppel have helped Alex so much, and they have established such a relationship with Dr. Knueppel and her team, that Alex and his mom drive over 80 miles to the Indoor Sports Tournament in Oshkosh every year for his annual exam.
“Working with Special Olympics is very rewarding. The athletes are very appreciative,” Dr. Knueppel said.
Considering that 35 percent of Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. need new prescription glasses and 15 percent have an eye disease, Special Olympics Wisconsin and its athletes are very lucky to have Dr. Knueppel as Clinical Director of its Opening Eyes Program. Her presence sometimes opens up a whole new world for the athletes she treats.
“Sometimes athletes’ parents, coaches, teachers, employers and others around them think that they cannot do some things because of their intellectual disability, when it turns out that they just did not see clearly,” Dr. Knueppel said.