Crystal Lytle of Winter Garden, Florida, never knew she had a rare disease caused by blocked arteries at the base of her brain until she suffered a stroke in the middle of the night last March.
Called Moyamoya disease, a progressive brain disorder that often results in hemorrhagic stroke because of recurring blood clots in the affected brain vessels, it left Lytle paralyzed on the right side of her body.
But a new device that sends electrical signals to the brain to stimulate muscle movement has allowed the her to regain the use of her right hand.
Soon, the 28-year-old bartender will be shaking and stirring drinks once again.
With the device by Bioness Inc., a therapist attaches electrodes to a patient's arm or leg at key muscle points or areas that control foot movement or hand movement. The system then sends electrical impulses to stimulate muscle movement, "forcing" muscles in the leg to lift one's foot or in the arm to grasp and release.
"I couldn't open or close my hand. It was sort of stuck," said Lytle. "With the electrical stimulation device, it had me gripping stuff. It felt a little weird, tingly, but I was amazed how I was using muscles I thought I couldn't use anymore."
Therapists use a hand-held transmitter to program the amount of stimulation based on their patient's needs, and can make adjustments to the device, which has been on the market for two years, based on the patient's progress.
"For example, a person recovering from a stroke may have a foot that is turned more inward or downward, making walking difficult," said Marissa Conrad, physical therapist at Orlando Health's Outpatient Rehabilitation Services. "The new device stimulates muscles helping the foot move up and out to help with walking."
The device also can help those who have suffered from head or spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and orthopedic problems. It won't work on those who have had significant muscle or nerve damage because the electrical signals won't get through. Also, patients with pacemakers, malignant tumors, spasms and circulatory problems may not be good candidates for the device.
Orlando Health uses the technology in both inpatient and outpatient therapy. Winter Haven Hospital is the only other Central Florida hospital that has both foot and hand devices. The device is also available for home use, but comes with a price tag of about $6,000. Insurance may cover part or all of the cost.
Before now, traditional exercise methods were used to get patients to walk or use their hands to grasp and release.
"This advanced technology stimulates muscles in ways we were unable to before," said Dr. David Portée, medical director of Orlando Health's Rehabilitation Institute.
Portée said the device can re-educate muscles to move again, even years after patients have had a stroke.
"Functional electrical stimulation delivers a shock to the survivor's muscle. The shock activates nerves and makes the muscle move. Theoretically, the brain may be able to recapture and relearn this movement without the stimulation," said Dr. Michael Sloan, a vascular neurologist at Tampa General Hospital and American Stroke Association volunteer. "The (association) has published abstracts on this type of technique, which have suggested benefits of improved movement and enhanced motor control. This promising technology may facilitate efforts to recover from the effects of a stroke."
Lytle has shown substantial progress, and is expected to return to work in September. In the meantime, she has moved on to more traditional physical therapy methods to improve her body movements.
"After the device, you want patients strengthening their body and working on balance, to prevent risk of falling and help with the recovery phase," said Orlando Health physical therapist Tera Barzack. "Before they know it, patients are resuming their daily living activities."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun