By Celeste McLaughlin
Until the grand opening of Bright Eyes Kids in early May, parents in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel who were looking for a pediatric eye doctor had to settle for general practices that include a pediatric optometrist. But now, for the first time in the New Tampa and Wesley Chapel area, there is an office dedicated completely to kids’ vision.
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, FAAO, is a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and his O.D. degree from the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. While there, he completed his residency in children’s vision.
Dr. Bonilla-Warford, whose patients know him as “Dr. Nate,” says opening his office in the Palm Villa Centre on Amberly Dr. in Tampa Palms, minutes south of Wesley Chapel, grew from his love of treating kids in the office he runs in Westchase, which is called Bright Eyes Vision. He and his wife Cristina, who is the office manager, opened that office, a family practice that treats patients ages 6 months and older, in 2006.
“There are plenty of places you can take a child for vision care,” Dr. Nate says. “But, there are no facilities in this part of the state that are exclusively for kids.” He adds that his patients tell him that it’s hard to know if these practices are really kid-friendly or “if they just ‘kind of’ see kids.”
“We know we’re taking a risk with our business by excluding adults,” says Dr. Nate. “But, we believe it’s the most important way we can signal that, in this office, kids are number one.”
Bright Eyes Kids provides more than just eye exams and corrective eyewear. While some kids are helped immensely with glasses, others benefit from treatments that include vision therapy or an innovative procedure called orthokeratology. With Ortho-K, as it’s also called, kids wear specialized contacts at night to eliminate the need to wear corrective eyewear during the day. It also reduces the chances that vision will worsen over time.
Dr. Nate explains that many of the kids that he helps have symptoms that may not be easily recognized by their parents or even their pediatrician. Perhaps a child is struggling in school, either in reading or possibly even with their behavior. They may or may not have blurry vision, and may have other symptoms including headache and fatigue. In general, they avoid work that requires them to look closely, such as reading. Sometimes a parent may notice a wandering eye, especially when kids are tired and distracted, but a problem still may not be detected in a vision test.
Dr. Nate explains how his office helps these kids in a way that differs from a more typical optometrist.
“Our clinical process starts the same as any other eye doctor, with an exam to ensure the eyes are healthy, with no disease or injury,” he says. “Then we check vision to see if kids are seeing blurry or are near-sighted, far-sighted, or have an astigmatism. If so, we prescribe glasses. Once the child has 20/20 vision, perhaps with the assistance of glasses, then we assess if the eyes move appropriately, focus appropriately and line up together appropriately.” If they don’t, Dr. Nate says that he often recommends vision therapy.
Vision therapy is customized for each patient, using a series of activities and exercises to improve the coordination of the patient’s eyes. With vision therapy, patients learn how to control their eyes and actually help eliminate their own vision problems.
“Vision therapy is even fun,” says Dr. Nate. “We keep our patients challenged and motivated using hula hoops, trampolines, a white board, computer software and much more. It’s very serious because we’re actually affecting a child’s visual development, but it’s also fun for them.”
Many patients who have been seeing Dr. Nate at his Westchase office for weekly vision therapy are now being seen at the New Tampa office.
“We have parents who are bringing their kids to us once a week from Winter Haven, Bradenton, Sebring and even Gainesville,” says Dr. Nate. “We decided to open Bright Eyes Kids in a location that would have easier access to I-75 for our patients who travel to us from around the state.”
Valerie McDaniel, who lives in the Lake Forest community on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. south of Tampa Palms, has been bringing her son Michael, who is 10, to Dr. Nate for vision therapy for about six months. Before Bright Eyes Kids opened, she says she would take what could be an hour to drive to the Westchase office.
“I love the new location,” she says. “It’s five minutes from my house. I used to make the drive because it’s a priority and you do what you have to do for your kids, but this is much easier.” She calls the improvement she’s seen in her son’s vision, “dramatic and definable.”
Bright Eyes Kids accepts several vision insurance plans, but not medical insurance. Specialty testing and treatments are paid out of pocket.
“Our costs for vision therapy are similar to what you might pay for a specialized tutoring program, and less than orthodontics,” explains Cristina. Therapy is typically once a week for six months, with “homework” to practice at home what is taught during therapy sessions.
“I love working with kids,” says Dr. Nate. “I try to find ways to let kids know that I understand them and can be on their level.” This is the philosophy behind the bright, colorful art in the lobby and Dr. Nate’s signature LEGO minifigure toy trading. He encourages kids to bring their own LEGO minifigure toys and swap with the ones he has in his office.
“If we make the exam fun, we’re going to get better results,” he says.
Bright Eyes Kids is located at 15303 Amberly Dr., Suite C. It is open Monday-Tuesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information or to make an appointment, call 792-0637 or visit BrightEyesKidsVision.com.