Device helping people walk again

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
January 28, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
We have a medical story that will amaze you when you see the results. A simple device is helping people walk better. Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.We're talking about better walking for people with the most trouble doing it, those who have been paralysed by nerve damage. In one case of a woman with multiple sclerosis or MS, a tiny box the size of an iPod has given her back a piece of her life.

Three years ago Debbie Gomez-Trost was living her dream, watching her triplets grow up and enjoying her new home.

"Everything was golden," Gomez-Trost said. "We finally obtained our goals. We had our kids, the house we always wanted. Everything we wanted and then one day, somebody turned the switch off."

Debbie's right leg was paralyzed. The diagnosis: MS, multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease of the nervous system that short circuits communication between the brain and body. It can lead to loss of movement and paralysis, and there is no cure.

Debbie was forced to wear an uncomfortable brace to help her paralyzed leg. Struggling to walk, she experienced a problem known as foot drop, where she could no longer flex her ankle and walk normally.

Then, in the summe of 2006, hope came in the form of a new device called the WalkAide that helps with foot drop.

Here's how it works: The WalkAide device is about the size of an iPod. It's strapped around the calf, and a gentle electric signal is sent from the device to the leg, telling the foot to lift and lower. That's something the brain can't do on its own-- and it restored communication between itself and Debbie's foot.

Her husband, Bob Trost, said that the improvement has been monumental.

"It's changed our whole family's life," Trost said. "Having my wife back. You know, she's a mother again to the kids. She's a ball of fire now, she's always on the go."

She sometimes still uses a cane, but the WalkAide has made her more comfortable and boosted her confidence.

"It's really changed my life a lot," she said. "Life-altering events really don't happen that much, and it happened to me."

The National Multiple Sclerosis society awarded the WalkAide its 2007 da Vinci award for outstanding devises that help the disabled. It may also help patients whose foot drop is the result of stroke, cerebral palsy, spinal cord or brain injury.