Whenever we find something we love, and then seek to make it our life’s work, it takes trust and energy and charisma, optimism and dedication and respect, patience, boldness and faith.

And hope.

And no matter what we do or where we are in our life path, one thing remains the same: A similar passion is alive within all of us.

When I first met Joel Thompson and began to hear about this great work he is doing for a medical startup company, I was anxious about whether I would fully understand his job and what eyeBrain Medical is doing in the world of optometry, but one thing was clear:

Joel is in love with his work. He is so animated with enthusiasm and joy, but above it all, he just wants to help people and have a positive impact on their lives, and that’s what I take with me today.

That’s where our commonalities will continue to lie: Our work in the OTA region is so diverse, and it’s a beautiful canvas of creative vision evolving, but it’s our passion and our energy that inspires one another.

And that’s hopeful.

Seeking a standard vision of care

EyeBrain Medical is a small but mighty company that focuses on making vision more comfortable. It began a few years ago with the invention of a product that predominantly relieves chronic headaches. This product, a progressive prism within an eyeglass lens — much like a bifocal would be — helps your two eyes work together more properly to create a more balanced image.

“What we are really trying to do is change the world of optometry,” Joel says. “They think mostly, ‘How does your left eye work? Let’s make it see better. How does your right eye work? Let’s make it see better. And let’s make sure your eyes are healthy,’ but they are not thinking about how your eyes work together very much.”

So Joel’s team does. And when your eyes do see together better, headaches are alleviated. But the prism could work for anyone.

“We want to help not only chronic patients, but everyone. If you work on a computer a lot, and your eyes feel tired at the end of the day, they don’t have to,” Joel says. “Maybe your symptoms haven’t progressed or your threshold for pain is higher, but it’s the same exact problem, and we can fix it.

“It’s wild. It’s nuts!”

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As great of a pitch that Joel makes, it’s not easy to get everyone on board, and the work now is trying to get the technology into optometry clinics.
Not just a few in Sioux Falls. All of them, everywhere, and as a standard of vision care.

“Our goal as a company is to have this test as part of every single eye exam that exists,” Joel says. “But even in the clinics that we already are in, there’s a little bit of convincing.”

The 90-second test is free, but the product is expensive, and the novelty of it all really is “wild.”

“We know what this product can do, but it’s looked at as too good to be true. Because it totally is too good to be true! We are changing the lives of patients with chronic headaches simply with a pair of glasses.”

So Joel keeps his focus on the story. Now that the product is developed and is working on hundreds of patients, his job with eyeBrain is to help start clinics nationwide and to get more optometrists on board.

He welcomes the work.

“I’m a part of this because even though it’s a big challenge, it’s also providing real benefit to people who don’t currently have an option otherwise,” he says. “It’s almost like solving a big mystery for a whole bunch of people, and there’s a lot of leg work that goes into that.

“That’s what I’m trying to do, is convince optometrists to take on this challenge with me.”

Joel has a really big heart. He speaks and listens with attentiveness and kindness, he’s incredibly smart and there’s an obvious passion at work. He’s the perfect person for this kind of job, but for some doctors, even that’s not enough.

“Implementing this process into the clinic is so much more difficult than hearing it and believing it, because the message makes sense: Either your eyes work together, or they don’t work perfectly together. And if they don’t, let’s fix it! And the way we fix it is with a lens.”

Sounds simple enough?

“But this is changing the mindset of a group of doctors who have really been taught one thing, and some of what we do is fairly counter-intuitive to how they were educated.

“We just need to let doctors see results.”

Happy patients, happy company

So let’s hear some of those success stories! This is the fun part.

“I’ll never forget our very first patient on the first day I was in the clinic,” Joel says.

He was in Sioux Falls with Dr. Jeff Krall, the optometrist who invented the prism, and they were doing studies with neurologists. At this point, the treatment was still just an experiment, but in regard to this certain patient, who came in with extreme migraine headaches, if the lens didn’t work for him, his next step was behavioral health.

Everyone involved needed this to work. And it did.

“He came in, big rosy cheeks and a smile from ear to ear,” Joel says. “Within three weeks time, he went from living in a dark room in pain to spending more time with his daughter, and he felt like he could be a dad again.

“And the only thing changed was that he put on a pair of glasses.”

Joel says they see patients like that time and again.

“There are countless stories and video testimonials where they just break down. People who were suicidal three weeks before…just got a pair of lenses — after trying everything — and now they have jobs and great lives. Because they don’t have headaches anymore.

“They are incredibly powerful stories,” he says. “If we really accomplish what we hope to accomplish — when that time comes — to be able to look back at that first patient, I’ll never forget him. Ever.

“His life is better now because of what we’ve done.”

These stories complete Joel’s work and the mission of eyeBrain. These stories will always be the reason.

“It’s the lifeblood of our company,” Joel says. “Frankly, when work feels like ‘just work,’ the idea that all of that work is being done on the basis of trying to help as many of these people as possible, that’s a pretty awesome motivator and a reminder that it’s not ‘just work.’

“We are selling hope.”

Proud of the adventure

Joel didn’t go to medical school — he double majored in finance and economics at Augustana University, and was the student body president to boot — so sometimes, he is surprised to realize he’s found so much passion within a medical technology startup. But it’s the impact — it’s the result of his work that drives him.

“If we do this right and we grow this right and doctors keep picking it up and it gets to be a part of every patient’s yearly eye exam — or even 10 percent of yearly eye exams! — that’s going to change a lot of lives.”

Joel just wants to help people. He wants them to realize the great magnitude of eyeBrain’s mission — that, yes, truly, a simple pair of lenses can improve your lifestyle and your outlook and even your productivity in a day.

If you’re the right patient, this product can change your life, and Joel is infinitely grateful to be a part of the journey.

“Collaborating day-to-day with people who are absolutely convinced they’re in the process of changing the world creates a pretty contagious feeling of possibility,” Joel says. “This wild ambition of making a gigantic, positive mark on the world is fairly unbelievable on its surface. Most would hear, ‘I’m going to change the world,’ and shrug it off as rhetoric. These people have already made it happen, so there’s no reason to think that they won’t do it again — and I get to be a part of that every single day.

“I work with dreamers, who have also proven themselves as doers,” Joel says.
Joel creates a pretty contagious feeling of possibility, too, and as he continues to look up to his cohorts — with a kind and humble heart — we’re looking to him, admiring his gusto.

And we see hope.