Taking steps after a stroke

By Karen Abernathy - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age or sex. It is the third leading cause of death, and the number one cause of adult disability in the U.S. But a new device is helping some stroke victims get back on their feet.

Surviving a stroke is only the beginning of the battle for many. More than half of stroke survivors have difficulty walking on their own, or can't get around at all.

At one time, doctors told Debi Sjoberg she would never walk again. At 39, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side.

"When I woke up, I knew immediately something was wrong because I could feel my face was drooping," Sjoberg said.

For years she struggled with cumbersome braces that restricted her movement.

"I was very frightened. I'd always had my husband next to me holding me, because I felt like I was always going to fall over."

That fear changed when Debi started using Walk-Aide. The electronic device worn just below the knee sends an electrical pulse to the nerves, allowing the muscles to contract and lift her foot.

Physical therapist Gina Marino says the Walk Aide has made a tremendous difference in Debi's recovery.

"Without the walk-aide, her foot would turn in, and her ankle would push to the side, and her toe would drag."

A computer program sets the gait for each person. The more Debi uses it, the more her muscles respond.

"The first time she put the walk-aide on, her gait looked as normal as I can remember in all the years that I've worked with her.  It took away a lot of the patterns that she had gotten into," Marino said.

Debi says daily chores are no longer impossible, and that the device has given her the confidence and courage to carry on after the stroke.

"You don't realize how much it takes away from your life. And because of this little thing, it's given me my life back."

Walk aide costs about $4,500. Marino said it is covered by insurance about 40 percent of the time. It's used for people with brain injuries, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions. Experts say people with pacemakers or those who suffer from seizures shouldn't use it.

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