MS patients finding mobility through new device

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Approximately 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms are unpredictable and vary from person to person, but one of the more common symptoms is a loss of balance and muscle coordination, making walking difficult.

Brenda Collard
Brenda Collard

One of the newer treatments for MS patients who have trouble walking is functional electrical stimulation. That stimulation comes through a pretty simple device worn on the leg. The one KSL News looked at is used in conjunction with rehab, and the goal is to help improve mobility over time.

One of Brenda Collard's favorite things to do is hop on a motorcycle with her husband. But until recently, she couldn't enjoy the pastime anymore because MS had thrown off her balance and made it very difficult to lift her foot, let alone her whole leg.

"My nerves weren't firing, so I wasn't getting the information of how to use my leg," Collard says. "I couldn't pick it up. I couldn't walk with it. I had to drag it."

Back then, Collard needed a cane or people to help her walk, but not anymore. Last year, she started using the NESS L300, a leg rehab system from Bioness.

A sensor, worn in Brenda's shoe, recognizes when her heel is on the ground and sends a signal to electrodes inside a leg cuff. Those electrodes deliver electrical impulses to her nerves, which stimulate the muscles, causing the foot to pick up at the right time.

"The very first time he put it on, I was able to actually lift my toe off the floor when I walked instead of drag it," Collard says.

"What we'll find is on the first time they come in, we'll get some response. The second time, the response is better. By the third time, they're blown away," says Ted Sexton, physical therapist at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital.

MS patients finding mobility through new device

The FDA cleared the device in 2006 to treat the condition known as foot drop, but it wasn't originally intended for those with MS.

When the Bioness device first came out, it was targeted toward patients who had suffered a stroke, a brain injury or spinal cord injury. But when MS patients heard about it, they wanted to test it out.

"They tend to be a younger population, so they were very active in wanting to get back into that style of living that they had before," says Phil Gibson, a Bioness representative for Utah.

"It's given me a whole new perspective on everything that I can do," Collard says. "The quality of my life is just 100 percent different."

After using the device in therapy, Collard decided to buy one for $6,000. She says the results were worth every penny. Now she can walk across grass, walk farther and go up and down stairs.

"I can do everything I want now," Collard says. "It's a really big deal because I have grandkids that I can really enjoy and play with now."

With her leg stronger, Collard can even go short periods of time at home without wearing the system. Now, instead of leaning on those around her for physical support, she can just enjoy her family's emotional support.

Again, these systems don't work for all MS patients. The nerves and muscles have to be capable of sending and receiving signals, which isn't always possible.

HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandy is offering a free community screening for people living with stroke, MS, brain injury or spinal cord injury. The screening will take place June 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a screening time, call 801-565-6589.


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Tonya Papanikolas


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