Small electric shocks make giant changes in MS patient's life
Release Date: 03/31/2009
Media Contact: Jen Kucirek
(402) 343-4676

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OMAHA, Neb. – Four weeks after limping in to her first physical therapy appointment, a new piece of technology has Margaret Beckman walking out of Immanuel Medical Center with a new kick in her step.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 32 years ago, the Council Bluffs woman’s chief symptom of the debilitating nervous system disease has been difficulty walking. For a decade, she managed to work around the problem by taking daily injections of medication to slow the spread of the disease.

Then, in late February, Beckman saw a segment on The Today Show that highlighted the Bioness L300 Foot Drop System: a new piece of technology helping people with neurological conditions to walk. “The L300,” as Beckman calls it, is an advanced system that acts as the nerves in patients’ legs. Once they strap the device to their calf and attach a sensor to their foot, all they have to do is lift their heel. The sensor relays that message to the device, which then sends an electric pulse into the leg, stimulating it to lift the rest of the foot.

“I’d never done physical therapy before and I hadn’t really tried many drugs to manage my condition,” explained Beckman. “But this really stood out to me as something to try because I didn’t have to worry about any side effects.”

A little research and a few phone calls later, Beckman set up an appointment at Immanuel’s Rehabilitation Center to try it out for herself. “I honestly thought I was going to go in, put this thing on my leg, and then walk right out of there,” said Beckman.

But after ten years without adequate use, her muscles had atrophied – or partially wasted away. Even with the stimulation of the L300, Beckman was barely able to walk up a few stairs.

Over the next few weeks, she worked hard to rebuild the muscle mass she’d lost over the years – and even harder to retrain them to walk. Before a month of therapy had passed, she reached a milestone: “I climbed up two flights of stairs really without much effort at all.”

Beckman now has an L300 of her own, which she will rely on as long as she is able to walk. Unlike some stroke patients, who use the device as a tool to regain their ability to walk on their own, people with MS will never be able to walk without the support of the L300 or other tool. “Due to the nature of multiple sclerosis, devices like this will never give Margaret her nerves back,” explains Jessica Wissink, Alegent Health physical therapist. “The electric pulses will, however, act as her nerves and they will strengthen her gait quality.”

“I know that this isn’t going to actually improve my disease. But it is going to facilitate it,” said Beckman. “In the end, I just hope to one day have enough strength to walk without a limp.”

The L300 does not work for all patients; anyone interested should contact their physician to see if they qualify. For more information about this or any other rehabilitation services provided by Alegent Health, call Lead Physical Therapist Sharon Malick at (402) 572-2065.

About Alegent Health
Alegent Health is the largest not-for-profit, faith-based healthcare system in Nebraska and southwestern Iowa with nine acute care hospitals, more than 100 sites of service, over 1,300 physicians on its medical staff and roughly 9,000 employees. Alegent Health is ranked first in the country in quality and patient satisfaction according to the Network for Regional healthcare Improvement (NRHI). That exceptional commitment to providing patient focused care for the body, mind and spirit of every person keeps Alegent Health faithful to its Mission, which was inspired by its sponsors, Catholic Health Initiatives and Immanuel Health Systems. At Alegent Health, patients and their families find a continuum of care, from women's and children's services, primary care, wellness counseling, and senior care to cardiovascular services, orthopaedics, oncology, physical rehabilitation and behavioral health. Alegent Health is online at www.alegent.com.