Source: Ryan Alves, The News-Enterprise
New system provided by Kentucky Colonels
Learning to walk again is tough. Elizabethtown resident Irene “Dee” Miller knows that all too well.
With the help of a new harness system at Hardin Memorial Health’s Therapy and Sports Medicine Center, Miller hopes to one day do exactly that.
“I (already) feel like I can walk better and I’m more comfortable,” Miller said of using the center’s new Solo-Step Fall Prevention System, which includes a harness suspended by a cord from a track installed into the ceiling.
The rig helps provide standing balance during step training.
Miller, who lost the use of the left side of her body after she suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke in 2014, said the harness also helps with fear.
“I’m not worried about falling down anymore,” she said.
The center received the new system in a gift from the Honorable Order of the Kentucky Colonels to the Hardin Memorial Health Foundation. It’s the only one of its kind in the 10-county region HMH serves.
Dan Martin, HMH’s director of rehab services, said the Solo-Step can give patients plenty of security.
“To help patients make improvements, we often have to push their boundaries,” Martin said in a news release. “This system means patients do not have to worry about falling and can completely focus on getting better.”
During a session Wednesday with her physical therapist Lauren Speelman, Miller showed just how much progress a patient can make using the new system. The two have been using it twice a week for about a month now.
“She’s doing really well,” Speelman said. “It’s been really helpful.”
To start the step training, Miller is buckled into the harness by Speelman. It features three buckles and secures around Miller’s chest, waist and in between her legs.
Speelman places Miller’s wheelchair and another chair about 20 feet apart.
Miller then takes a seat at one of the two ends while Speelman pushes a standing mirror to the other end.
“She likes to look down a lot, so we use the mirror to help her look up while she walks,” Speelman said.
When ready, Miller’s right hand clutches a walker and her right foot pushes her body out of the chair.
Her left side was affected by the stroke. As she stands, her left arm is tightly clutched to her body, almost like dead weight. Her left foot offers a little more use nowadays.
“Left foot in front of the right,” Speelman reminds Miller.
Miller’s first steps are used to get her correct footing. Then her left foot swings out gingerly, followed by a much more pronounced right step.
Speelman’s hand hangs from a strap on the back of the harness for support.
Then step after step, Miller, with Speelman in tow, makes her way to the other chair. She does a slow turn and then sits down for a brief break.
Speelman offers her water, but Miller declines.
“I’m fine, ma’am, thank you,” Miller said.
On any given day, the two will repeat this activity for about 45 minutes — walking, then sitting. On average, they usually make six trips.
“She gets a little winded,” Speelman said. “It takes a lot out of her sometimes. We need to work on her endurance more.”
Miller said some days are better than others. This session is one of the better ones as Miller makes eight trips.
“We’re breaking records today,” Speelman said.
Miller even attempts one trip without the walker, and makes it three-quarters of the way before asking for it back.
As she nears her resting point, Miller offers the room some comedic relief.
“Momma’s coming,” Miller said to her chair. “I see you waiting on me.”
Despite requiring a wheelchair most of her days, Miller’s attitude is bright.
Speelman said because of the Solo-Step system, physical therapy isn’t as taxing on either of them as it once was.
“It really makes it easier on the physical therapist because they don’t have to worry about fully supporting a patient in the case of a fall,” she said. “It’s nice because the patients just feel safer. It gives us both extra security. It also allows the therapist to challenge them a little more.”
The Solo-Step primarily is used for patients after a stroke, amputation or spinal cord injury or those with a neurological disorder. Children also can use it. Speelman said only a handful of patients now use the device at HMH Therapy and Sports Medicine Center, but she sees uses for it growing in the future.
She also said more track can be added and connected to the existing ones.
Miller said she plans to continue working hard with a goal of being able to walk more at home without anyone’s help.
She said another driving force was one day getting back to work. Miller was a manager at Dollar General for nine years before her stroke.
“I miss the people. I miss all of it,” she said.