Spinal Cord Injury Patients Conquer Fear One Step at a Time at Seton Brain and Spine Recovery Center

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink  — from HealthNewsTexas.com

For spinal cord injury patients “fear” is a part of everyday life, especially the fear that they may never have the life they once enjoyed.  As a quadripertic, Daniel Curtis faces fear daily from his wheelchair, but trust in a recently installed rehabilitation system at the Seton Brain & Spine Recovery Center has displaced the fear and drives him on a mission to walk once again.

“The end game for me is the ability to walk,” explained Daniel Curtis while strapped into a ZeroG harness. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The ZeroG system from Bioness is balance training technology providing body-weight support. It helps with a person’s posture, balance and ability to move about independently.  For Curtis it serves as one more important tool in his recovery from a swimming pool accident on Memorial Day 2011 that left him clinging for life and dependent upon the wheels of a chair.

“The end game for me is the ability to walk,” explained Curtis while strapped into a ZeroG harness. “My first impression was ‘wow, look at that expensive track with the winch hanging from it. Once I was on it I realized it was much more, a very smart and sophisticated piece of medical equipment.”

The Seton Brain & Spine Recovery Center, a member of the Seton Healthcare Family, is committed to assisting patients recover from spinal cord injuries.  This state-of-the-art rehabilitation system allows patients to get one step closer to being able to walk.

The new technology is the first-ever gait and balance-assisted robotic system. Walking in the ZeroG is similar to walking in a reduced gravity environment. The device can detect if a person starts to fall forward or backward and will catch them so they are not injured.

The computerized brain of the system makes up to 1,200 adjustments per second. It uses a sophisticated pulley system capable of holding up to 350 pounds.

“I am extreme excited to be a part of this center,” said Dr. Roger Parthasarathy, medical director of the Seton Brain and Spine Recovery Center. ”It is a unique spinal cored recovery center compared to others that are located mostly at large academic universities and have a philosophy of adaptation or retraining patients to adapt to their disabilities. With the collaboration of Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, this clinic focuses on recovery; engineering outcomes to help patients recovery their abilities to walk and become as functional as possible.”

Once I overcame the fear I was able to push myself to the limits,” said Curtis. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“As with any new therapist it takes awhile to trust this equipment, especially when there is potential to fall,” said Curtis standing erect with the help of the ZeroG.  “It took about 15 minutes to trust this machine.  After a few falls I realized that you could never hurt yourself, even if you intentionally tried to face plant on the ground.  It lowers you slowly and graciously.”

The rehabilitation system is unique because when patients are attached to the device they walk on their own, or with the aid of a therapist. If they begin to fall forward or backward, the device will catch them so they are not injured. The system monitors important patient information which can then be reviewed by the therapist to track the patient’s recovery.

“We’re discovering that using advanced equipment like the ZeroG helps force a level of function otherwise not possible. It propagates recovery among those with certain spinal cord injuries,” explained Parthasarathy, a facility member of the UT Southwestern Medical Center residence program at Seton. “Having a mechanism that helps patients with their posture and limb strength allows them to ambulate and is an added benefit to recovery.”

The high-tech, $220,000 piece of equipment was donated by the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation. More than 200 patients will benefit from the new technology as part of their rehabilitation, including those that suffered from a stroke or a traumatic brain injury.

The system monitors important patient information, which can then be reviewed by the therapist to track their patient’s recovery. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

According to Doug English, founder of Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, “We’re committed to providing hope to those with spinal cord injuries in the form of cutting-edge research and state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment.”

ZeroG was developed and invented with the help of the National Rehabilitation Hospital physical therapists and researchers. This new technology is listed by the FDA and is the first-ever gait and balance assisted robotic technology developed at a U.S. rehabilitation hospital. It is now commercially available to rehabilitation and U.S. military hospitals across the U.S.

“Once I overcame the fear I was able to push myself to the limits,” said Curtis crawling across a mat with the aid of the machine. “When there is no fear you are able to go beyond the typical limits. It’s that moment right before you lose your balance, right before you fall, that you feel a lot of these stabilizing muscles engage and the reflex you might not always able to summon that you are now able to call upon – the stronger that gets the stronger I get.”

“The ZeroG allow patients to become functional, but will not let them fall,” Parthasarathy explained.  “It gives them a tremendous range of motion and mobility.”

A therapist using a specially equipped iPod can control the progress of a patient on the ZeroG system. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

This is the first rehabilitation technology allowing therapists to safely train patients through a wide range of activities because of the systems unique ceiling mount. The touch screen interface allows for changes at the press of a button and offers therapists real-time feedback and information storage on the number of falls prevented, session duration, distance walked and minimum and maximum body-weight support within a session.

  • Overground walking
  • Dynamic balance and stability
  • Stair climbing
  • Side stepping
  • Transfers
  • Getting off the floor
  • Deep knee bends
  • Postural tasks
  • Treadmill training
  • Using assistive devices

“We all start out in life pretty helpless, and that is certainly the way I felt after my injury. Then we learn to crawl, from crawling then we learn to kneel, from kneeling we learn to stand and from standing when we get our balance and we learn to walk.  There is no difference from that than the typical stages of recovery when it comes to neurological injury like mine,” Curtis said,  “This is a great machine with a lot to offer.

Working on the system with the therapist at the center three times a week, Curtis has a definite goal he strives to reach.

“Will I walk again, absolutely. There is no question in my mind and there really can’t be,” he exclaimed confidently. “That is why you get out of bed, that is why you come to the gym.  I really miss the life I had and I can’t give up the idea that I can get it back.”