Stimulating Hope for healing
Barbara Stokely and her husband, Dr. Martin Sternstein, were enjoying a concert of opera arias at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco when she suddenly discovered she could not applaud the tenor. His Mozart was fine, but she literally could not do it. Once she realized she also could not move her left leg, she knew she was having a stroke.
Stokely spent time in intensive care and then in physical therapy before finally returning to her Peninsula home weak and in a wheelchair. Initially paralyzed on her left side, she worked hard to recover, moving from wheelchair to walker to cane. A heavy plastic brace enabled her to walk, but with an awkward, labored gait.
Stokely started physical therapy at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and in September, little more than a year after her stroke, took a big step forward. She was fitted with the NESS L300™ device by Bioness Inc., a revolutionary technology designed to help patients regain mobility through electrical stimulation of their nerves.
"The technology works to restimulate nerves rendered nonfunctional due to stroke," says Alain Claudel, director of Rehabilitation Services at Community Hospital. "The brain is no longer triggering muscle movement, so the machine fills the gap in the walking cycle."
The device has three parts, all connected wirelessly: a leg cuff with electrodes, worn just below the knee; a sensor that fits in the shoe; and a small control unit. When the heel lifts, the sensor in the shoe signals the cuff to send mild electrical stimulation to nerves, contracting muscles in the leg to continue lifting the foot and complete the step. The hand-held remote control unit allows the patient to adjust the stimulation.
Bioness makes a similar device for arms and hands that can make it easier for users to reach for things, write, drink from a glass, and use two hands.
"The technology works to restimulate nerves rendered non-functional due to stroke. The brain is no longer triggering muscle movement, so the machine fills the gap in the walking cycle."
When not wearing the Bioness unit on her leg, Stokely wears a big plastic brace and requires a cane. The brace prevents her from tripping, but its weight and stiffness create a slow and unsteady step. With the Bioness device, Stokely has a more fluid, more natural gait.
Little by little, and after many repetitions of movement, Claudel says, people using Bioness technology report a better quality of movement and motor recovery.
"Researchers hope to reach a point," says Claudel, "where the patient recovers natural movement and can stop using the Bioness unit. We’re really excited about that possibility.