New technology helping some in wheelchairs walk again




Posted on June 16, 2010 at 12:07 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 16 at 9:18 PM

DALLAS — For years, physical therapy was the only way to recover movement lost to injury or illness. But, where rehab stops, technology starts.

A breakthrough in technology is helping some in wheelchairs walk again.

When Barry Don Callaway walks it's with a shuffle and a thud. The 51-year-old man was paralyzed on his left side four years ago after popping a wheelie on his motorcycle.

"I came down crooked," he said. "It threw me over the handlebars [and I] hit my head on the shoulder of the road. I actually woke up two months later."

When treatment quit working, Callaway turned to technology.  A device called the WalkAide sends electrical signals to the nerve that controls the ankle and foot.

"It basically acts like a brain in a box, stimulates the nerve in the leg directly and allows the foot to lift at the appropriate time when the patient's walking to improve walking ability for that patient," said Kimberly Ridout, a therapist.

The science is similar to neurostimulation for pain or Parkinson's disease.

The device can also be used on patients with a condition called "foot drop" from spinal cord injury, stroke, MS or cerebral palsy.

For Callaway, the difference is a more natural walk with less effort.

"It actually bends my foot for me so I don't have to do it," he said. "And, what it has done actually is build my muscle in my leg back up for me."

In fact, the advance in technology has allowed Callaway to abandon the wheelchair and walker and regain his independence.