The Beauty Of Seeing Double
It has always been said that it takes two to tango. Soul singer Lyn Collins once sang, "It takes two to make a thing go right". Iconic Motown label duo Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston sang, "It takes two - just me and you". Legendary saxophonist Grover Washington and Bill Withers also sang an age old hit, "Just the two of us", which was later sampled into a hip hop classic by the rapper turned actor Will Smith. Throughout time, some of the best things in life often comes in pairs. Simply ask identical twin optometrists Drs. Lakesha Story and Latesha Story-Walker.
In the Fall of 2000, these natives of West Shawmut, Alabama arrived on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) full of optimism about their future. Involved several student organizations such as the Undergraduate Student Government Association, they learned, as well as demonstrated the importance of sterling leadership. They were consistently committed to academic achievement, constantly with their eyes on the prize - literally.
It was while watching the biopic film "Ray", about the legendary singer and musician Ray Charles that their interest in optometry was peaked. What they found intriguing was how was it possible for a man to master several artforms of music to the levels of genius while simultaneously void of sight? How did he in fact lose his sight to begin with the sisters wondered. In the film, viewers see where he did have his sight at one time as a small child but it gradually went away. However, this interesting backstory generated a thirst in the two sisters.
While as students at UAB, the twin sisters, or "Doubles" as they were nicknamed, always wore identical matching outfits and were rarely seen without each other. They always worked as a pair. They began and completed their collegiate tenure together and received their bachelor degrees in biology with minors in chemistry. But the road to optometry did not quite begin there. According to Dr. Lakesha Story, "We came to UAB because of the medical programs. We always knew that we wanted to work in the medical field but we were unsure as to which practice and path."
Initially, the Doubles concluded that pediatric medicine would be their path. However, after hearing a lecture detailing the extensive hours away from home and family required of medical doctors in such high demand medical tracks such as pediatrics, the twins decided to pursue other medical disciplines. "We grew up in a close knit and family oriented community so working long hours and always being on call away from what keeps us grounded wasn't what we wanted", explained Dr. Lakesha Story. Eventually they would get student assistant jobs in the UAB School of Optometry (UABSO). It was here that they became acquainted with the leadership and direction of Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Student Affairs, Dr. Gerald Simon, OD. Also they became mentees of their mentor, the late Jennifer Banks.
Jennifer Banks, who passed away in 2016 became an employee at The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry in 1978. She retired in 2008, after 30 years of dedicated service. According to her obituary, in her role as coordinator for community eye care, she impacted the lives of many of the students that matriculated through the school of optometry. She inspired students to stay the course, relative to their studies. In fact, many such as the Story twins attribute their graduation from the optometry program in part, to Jennifer’s encouragement. Also there was the spiritual support and guidance from the "prayer warrior" of UAB School of Optometry, Mrs. Brenda Carter.
"Ms. Brenda prayed and interceded on all of our behalves. School was hard and trying but she was always there with her kind words, smiling face and uplifting spirit. She could pray all of the fears and worries away. and rebuke every stronghold off of you. She was our angel away from home", the Doubles reflect on their late mentor and prayer warrior. Given what the Doubles had to undergo in order to complete the demanding curriculum from an internationally ranked medical institution such as UAB and its School of Optometry, a solid spiritual base was needed.
Eventually they would become optometry assistants at a local Wal Mart Vision Center, and then ultimately Doctor's of Optometry. "Optometry is our destiny, a calling from God. Faith led us to become private practitioners so we could walk out our own vision" says Dr. Lakesha Story. Individually, the twin sisters have experienced several modes of optometry. They have practiced optometry in both corporate and private settings. Dr. Lakesha Story has previously worked as the head of optometry for a community health center where she started the vision department single-handedly. Dr. Latesha Story-Walker has served active duty military and local military families in the Ft. Benning and Columbus, Georgia areas. With these types of credentials, as well as business initiatives and innovation, they questioned why remain in a secondary role when they clearly were leaders.
In 2015, they stepped out on faith and opened their private practice, Double Vision Eyecare, LLC in Valley, Alabama. Six years later they have begun construction efforts to open their second location this summer in Midland, Georgia. "When God compels you to move, then we moved. Even in the midst of a pandemic where many businesses were closed, we stepped out on faith because we were convinced that is what the Lord was calling us to do", says Latesha Story-Walker. The year 2020, will always be regarded as the year of the pandemic. However, for the Doubles, 2020 was a year of perfect vision with a clear focus on serving in their greatest capacity. They now have over 15 years of experience with a vast well of knowledge and growing expertise.
Personally we've diagnosed various eye conditions from glaucoma, dry eye, diabetic eye disease, tumors, and a host of other illnesses", Dr. Story explains. Optical care is just as important as internal health issues. However, many people don't acknowledge it as such. According to her twin sister, Dr. Latesha Story Walker further details that, "Some vision limiting conditions are manifestations of underlying medical conditions that are often diagnosed first through an eye exam". Some illnesses and diseases that can be detected by a standard eye examination are: aneurysm, brain tumor, cancers of blood/tissue/skin, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lupus, sexually transmitted disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's Disease, heart disease and a host of other diseases. Dr. Story concurs with her sister in that, "Many vision threatening diseases come with little to no symptoms in their early stages. Many vision impairing diseases can be prevented or managed by early detection". When asked if they could go back into time and provide services and prescription to a famous person, it would be Ray Charles.
"His childhood blindness cause remains unclear. It's been suggested that glaucoma or an infection, which are both manageable conditions with early detection", Dr. Lakesha Story explains. Ray Charles began to gradually lose his sight around the age of three and completely lost his sight when he was about seven years old. Years later, optometrists suggested that juvenile glaucoma had caused his blindness. "Being from small town Alabama, we know all to well the issues of the lack of access to to quality health care, especially with regards to African-Americans in the deep rural communities such as the Black Belt Region in the state", explains Dr. Story. Ray Charles was born into abject poverty. She wonders, what would have happened if he would have had access to affordable and quality healthcare and if his condition had been detected earlier?
In recent years, there has been much discussion regarding the state of America's health, particularly health disparities in African-Americans. It is among these factors that the twin optometrists operate within their calling, which generates their passion. "Daily in the clinic we are fulfilled by being able to personally make an impact on someone's life whether it's enhancing vision or restoring vision, whether it's diagnosing systemic conditions that wouldn't have been diagnosed because many people neglect their yearly primary care visit", the sisters explained.
For pilots, proper eye sight and eye care is paramount. At one point in time, pilots who did not possess 20/20 vision were barred from military service. However, due to medical developments in optometry, such a requirement was abandoned. The Doubles reveal that pilots should be even more aggressive about caring for their eyes, which are the avenue to other potential health problems. "There are specific vision requirements pilots must meet. Good vision has a direct correlation to healthy eyes. In order to maintain good vision routine eye exams are recommended", they stated.
"I get my eyes checked once a year with my annual flight physical" says Army Aviator Major Darold Carson. He has served as Director-Soldier Family Support Division at Army National Guard and Operations Officer at Alabama National Guard. The former Assistant Professor of Military Science at UAB goes on to further reveal that, " I do get my personal glasses from America’s Best and recommend them. They even do prescription shades which are nice when you are out on a sunny day". The "Agility 6" style of frames available at America's Best is a popular choice among military pilots who choose America's Best.
For pilots, eyes and hand eye coordination are the foundations for top flight. Without them, you can not fly. Unfortunately, many people do not give equal consideration to their eyes as they would their heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital internal organs although the eyes are just as important. "Like any other organ in your body, your eyes do not stay the same as you get older. Vision changes are normal with age, but vision loss and blindness are not", explains Dr. Story. With particulars to military aviators, America's air superiority hinges on combat readiness and health is a primary concern. "Vision changes are a normal part of the aging process. Staying physically fit and on top of eye care can reduce the risk of vision loss", Dr. Latesha Story-Walker explains.
For pilots who require a more detail optical care, the Doubles recommend the very resourceful site, EyesThatFly.com. This website was created to provide free information about flying-specific considerations for aviator's eye care and how best to protect a pilot's eyes in the cockpit and how to optimize a pilot's peak vision while in fly. EyesThatFly.com also includes a database of ophthalmologists and optometrists who are also pilots and therefore understand the unique situations that pilots face. For non-pilots, the needs may be slightly different.
"When seeking an optometrist for any type of care, finding someone who has a passion for his/her profession then great care will follow. An ideal visit would include a comprehensive assessment of the ocular health and the determination of the refractive (prescription) need", says Dr. Story. There are perhaps hundreds of optometry offices in one's immediate area to chose from. However, Double Vision speaks to the heart and soul of their patient base. Dr. Latesha Story Walker greatly proclaims that, "We want people to know that we are operating in our calling from God and faith walk when they come to us. When they come through our doors our priority is making a person feel welcomed, accepted, appreciated and like family when he or she walks through the door of our eye care facility".