By Elissa Bass
Physical therapist Allison Solis is offering instructions and words of encouragement while sitting on the edge of a treadmill in Hartford Healthcare’s Rehabilitation Network facility in its new Mystic HealthCenter.
“Bend. Kick. Bend. Kick. Look up! Bend. Kick. Good job.”
Both of her hands grasp the right leg of patient Charlene Tops, above, who is walking on the treadmill while being supported by a LiteGait training device. Charlene, 57, is paralyzed from the waist down and has been working hard to restore sensation and movement in her legs.
LiteGait is a gait training device that simultaneously controls a patient’s weight bearing, posture and balance over a treadmill or over ground. LiteGait provides proper posture, reduces weight bearing, eliminates concerns for balance and facilitates the training of coordinated lower extremity movement. The Mystic HealthCenter is the only Hartford HealthCare facility in the East Region to have this piece of equipment.
“It’s so great to have the LiteGait because, before, we would be doing this therapy and I would be holding Charlene,” Solis said. “With this, Charlene is supported, and I can do treatment on her legs. She feels confident, and we can get really strong quality of movement and intensity of movement. Before, I was the safety. Now, this is the safety net.”
When Hartford HealthCare was planning its Mystic HealthCenter — which opened in late January — it wanted to include some of the most advanced rehabilitation equipment available because the system planned to have a strong neurologic services presence in the region, said Anthony Falcigno, Regional Director, East Region Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network.
“Having the right tools and equipment, along with our highly specialized and trained staff who are passionate about these types of conditions makes for a top experience for these patients,” Falcigno said. “And having the Mystic HealthCenter be able to offer physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech patients these kinds of advanced treatments in the same location as many of their health care providers makes for a more coordinated, multidisciplinary team approach to their care.”
Besides the LiteGait, the Mystic facility also has a:
- Functional electrical stimulation (FES) bicycle, which applies small electrical pulses to paralyzed muscles to restore or improve their function.
- Bioness Wireless Hand Rehabilitation System, which delivers low-level electrical stimulation to activate the nerves that control the muscles in the hand and forearm.
- Parkinson Voice Project “Speak Out” program, which provides patients with intensive speech, voice and cognitive exercises.
“I started work here Feb. 3,” occupational therapist Mandy Lacey said. “Before that I worked for another provider. My first day, I actually became emotional looking at all the equipment we have here. Hartford HealthCare is so invested in this population, and it all provides so many amazing opportunities for people to make real gains.”
On this day in Mystic, Lacey is working with 59-year-old Doug Snell of Norwich. Five years ago, Snell said he went to bed one night, and “when I woke up the next morning I was paralyzed from the neck down.” He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. Since then, Snell has improved greatly, regaining use of his hands and arms. The Bioness is strapped to his left forearm, and as the electrical pulses come through, his fingers open and close.
Snell methodically grasps and releases rubber balls of various sizes while wearing the Bioness gear, a therapy designed to “break up the tone and open up his hand,” Lacey said. “Doug had a lot of weakness and a lack of range of motion (in the hand), and we’ve seen a huge improvement.”
Snell loves the technology he’s able to take advantage of in Mystic, “but it’s not just the equipment,” he said. “It’s the people. They really listen to you here. I like it much better than all the other places I’ve been to before, and I’ve been to a lot.” Doug receives both physical therapy and occupational therapy in Mystic.
Besides using the LiteGait during her recent session with Solis, Charlene also spends time working on the FES bike. Her husband, Bryan, helps Solis attach leads all over Charlene’s legs and connect them to the bike. The bike will send electrical stimuli to Charlene’s muscles through the leads, helping her muscles to move the pedals. On a screen, Charlene can see her balance, and how much of the work her muscles are actually doing as she pedals.
Solis said what’s nice about having the FES bike in Mystic — the only rehab facility in Hartford HealthCare’s East Region to have one — is that patients who are in Hartford Hospital’s Inpatient Rehab Unit receive therapy on the bike, and then after their discharge they can continue on it in Mystic. “For Charlene, this has made a significant difference,” Solis said. “We are using it for tone management and strengthening, and she is doing things she couldn’t do before.”
Meanwhile, across the room, speech-language pathologist Pamela DeSimone is working with Alan Strunk, a patient who has Parkinson’s Disease. Included in the specialties offered at the Mystic facility is the first eastern Connecticut branch of HHC’s Chase Family Movement Disorders Center. Speech pathology in Mystic also has new state-of-the-art equipment, including surface electromyography, which assesses muscle function by recording muscle activity from the surface above the muscle on the skin.
DeSimone and Strunk are working through the Parkinson Voice Project’s SPEAK OUT! program. A common side effect of Parkinson’s disease is weakness of the throat muscles used for speech. Using a sound level meter, DeSimone is able to monitor Strunk’s decibel level as he goes through a series of exercises, counting, saying words and letters, and making ahhhs and ohhhs.
“The program is designed to strengthen those muscles, improve loudness and ultimately clarity,” said DeSimone. Prior to Mystic opening, Parkinson patients had to travel to either Norwich, Vernon or Cheshire. “Alan is already showing improvement. He told me his wife is saying ‘what?’ to him much less often.”
For more information or to make an appointment, call the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network/Mystic at 860.572.5455. Services provided include Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Neurological Conditions, Movement Disorders, Musculoskeletal Conditions, and Sports Medicine.
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