Friday, February 02, 2007

A step forward for rehab patients

SANDWICH - With wireless technology that makes it easier for the brain to communicate with muscles, 12-year-old Henry Ramage of Barnstable is walking with more speed and confidence.

The sixth-grader, who attends the Horace Mann Charter School in Marstons Mills, is one of the first people in the country to benefit from a new neuroprosthetic device, the NESS L300, developed by Bioness Inc. of California.

Henry, who was born with cerebral palsy, receives physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands, where Bioness launched the new device. The lightweight leg cuff uses wireless technology to spark electrodes that stimulate the nerves and muscles people need to walk without tripping over their feet.

Each device costs $5,900.

The L300 helps individuals suffering from ''drop foot'' - a common effect of stroke and other neurological damage - to walk with a more normal gait, said RHCI's medical director, Dr. David Lowell. ''One patient said 'I've walked like a turtle for six years. Now I'm

walking more freely.'''

The hope is that by using the device people will retrain their brains, enabling them to walk with a permanently improved gait without it.

Henry started using the L300 in late November and he said at yesterday's news conference he's now walking easier and tripping less.

Henry uses an L300 cuff on each leg at the rehab center, turning the devices on with remote control boxes he keeps in the pockets of his shorts.

''I'm very happy with the progress I'm making with this machine,'' Henry said. ''I hope to have one at home.''

Robert Waldron of Marstons Mills also praised the device. The 49-year-old multiple sclerosis patient was having trouble walking with a cane and was considering a walker when the staff at RHCI asked him to give the L300 a try.

Now he keeps his hip lower and swings his leg less as he walks, which helps him conserve his energy - a crucial goal for any MS patient. It also makes walking safer.

''I took 24 stitches in the head,'' after tripping Memorial Day of 2005, Waldron said. The L300 helps him feel ''much more secure and balanced.''

Stroke patient Eleanor Kendrick of Truro said the L300 got her walking again sooner than expected. Before using the device, she used a wheelchair and would sit in the car while someone else did her grocery shopping.

''I used to be so tired. Now I can walk at least a mile,'' she said.

Kendrick suffered a stroke in June, but Lowell said the new technology can also benefit long-term stroke survivors who suffer from drop foot.

Before Bioness incorporated wireless technology into the new device, electrically stimulating malfunctioning nerves and muscles was a cumbersome experience. Henry had been using Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) as part of his therapy, but it wasn't portable or easy to use. The electrodes on his legs had to be perfectly placed, and they were attached to wires that limited his range of motion to two to three feet, said his mother, Georgann Ramage.

With the L300, a technician places the electrodes inside the portable cuff, which is controlled with a small remote box.

Bioness hopes to make several devices available soon for home rental or purchase. RHCI currently has 10 NESS L300 units - six for inpatient use, two for outpatient use in Sandwich and two at the RHCI-Orleans Outpatient Rehabilitation Center.

Bioness debuted the L300 at RHCI but plans to make it available to other hospitals as well.

Yitzhak Zilberman, president of CEO and Bioness, said his company chose RHCI because ''we share a state of mind, an attitude. We believe life doesn't end with stroke.''

Cynthia McCormick can be reached at