Seeing What Can’t Be Seen:
A Firsthand Account of the Power of the SyncThink Platform
When Opportunity Knocks
When I was first exposed to the EYE-SYNC technology, I had already been working for five years as part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary group of researchers at Stanford to better understand the natural history of head injury. We maintained a collective curiosity about novel ways this epidemic could be better understood, and in turn generate better patient outcomes. It was a who’s who of impressive credentials amongst the group, and we worked quickly to plan studies, apply for grants, and kick off projects mostly involving student-athletes. We launched experiments into blood markers, neuroimaging, DNA sampling, and impact monitoring using sensor-imbedded mouthguards. It was an exciting time, and we found no shortage of willing volunteers to support our need for data. They, like us, wanted answers.
Well, that was the problem. There were no answers. Of course, we collected data, filed for a few patents, and published papers – the usual discovery results that exist in academia today. But the translation from the lab to the clinic did not exist. All of this work still left us with the same questions, as if we were back to square one. For the most part, we had basically failed to deliver anything meaningful to help our athletes.
I look back on that time often and ponder how our focus could have been more patient-centered. We didn’t need to solve this dilemma per se, but we needed something measurable to create action and a change in mindset about how we cared for head injuries. Telling athletes’ families that we weren’t sure if their children had a concussion or not scared me. We needed to figure out how to know more. This was my mindset when Dr. Jam Ghajar, a Stanford neurosurgeon, delivered one of the first EYE-SYNC prototypes to my office and asked if it could help.
“Scott, awhile back, I invented this technology to help the military,” Dr. Ghajar said. “I’m not sure if you are interested, but it would be great if you could play with it and give us some feedback on how we can make it better. We are in the middle of clinical trials now to further validate our findings.”
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Truthfully, I was both curious and skeptical, in part due to the still acute realization of our most recent failures.
“Alright, I’ll give it a try. At this point, I’ll do anything if it helps our athletes.”
For the next six weeks, I dove deep. I read most of the publications, fired off emails with questions to Dr. Ghajar and his research team, and began testing it here and there when the time was appropriate. It was a concept I had never heard of before, but it made sense to me the more I learned. I wondered how this might fit into what we were already doing. I wondered how the athletes might take to it. I wrote drafts after drafts of protocols trying to evaluate how we could utilize this technology in a safe and controlled manner.
Then something happened. A star athlete suffered a head injury in practice, and all hell broke loose. The coaching staff wanted to know the player’s status, the Team Physician wanted a comprehensive evaluation done ASAP, and the parents were calling. Dr. Ghajar had also been brought in to consult on the case and provide a recommendation. We needed answers fast, and alas, the opportunity had arrived for us to deploy EYE-SYNC immediately.
After we explained the results to coach, Mom, and Dad and confirmed that the player was acutely disoriented (and we had proof!) and he would not be playing on gameday, I realized we had potentially been armed with a tool that could now a) provide evidence to support the medical decision-making process, b) base our decisions on facts, not opinion, and c) cover our rear ends like no tomorrow. I was excited. What I didn’t realize then was that I was just hitting the tip of the iceberg.
Finding Added Value
“I want you to test him every single day, so we can get a look at how he’s recovering,” Dr. Ghajar said. “That way we will know when it is safe for him to go back to having live contact. In the meantime, let’s get him exercising and on a sleep regimen.”
“Exercise?” I said. “What about his symptoms?”
“Well, we already know what his symptoms are from, that’s why we use objective measurements.” Dr. Ghajar replied confidently. “Exercise is a critical aspect of his recovery.”
So, off I went. I worked with our Docs and support staff to provide a treatment plan specifically designed to follow the athlete’s recovery from his acute visual impairment. We addressed sleep and academic workload, implemented a visual training program, and created a daily activity progression. And I tested the athlete every single day, per doctor’s orders.
A few days later, after completing his activity progression, the athlete was cleared to return to sport. He was asymptomatic, eager to play, and had dominated his treatment plan. His daily EYE-SYNC results had shown a gradual resolution of the visual impairment from one day to the next, and he was being reintegrated back into his daily life without issue. His Mom and Dad were relieved.
“Thank God we’re at a place that has this EYE-SYNC thing,” Dad said.
“Yeah, can’t we use this on everyone? I might even need to bring my kids by soon,” Coach said.
As the year progressed, the more obsessed I became. I wanted to measure everyone. I wanted to see how this athletic population’s ability to pay attention and focus was impacted by their lifestyle choices, training regimens, and of course their injuries. Soon, we were baselining all 900 athletes in our program and the results were fascinating.
Soon after, we started to identify a seemingly endless list of possible applications to the data we had collected. Previous impairments not resolved, variations in visual performance based on sport (and in some cases by position), the identification of chronic sleep deprivation, and areas of the visual field that improved with specific vision training. The vast utility of the technology had been realized by many in our program, and I was amazed how it had changed our outcomes for the better. We quickly scaled access to the technology for all teams, and soon we were putting the puzzle pieces together for dozens of athletes, coaches, and parents. We were finally on to something.
After the school year ended I met again with Dr. Ghajar to tell him all we had been up to.
“I don’t think you realize what you have here. We can proactively select athletes with poor visual orientation and improve their performance. We can also identify those with poor recovery due to sleep issues. There’s a lot of application here we need to explore,” I said.
He laughed and said, “That’s a conversation for another day.”