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Device helps people learn to walk again

After Scott Rayburg was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Ohio last year, surgeons gave him no more than a 15 percent chance of walking again.

“I was a little shocked,” said Rayburg, 19. “Regardless of what the doctors said, I was going to walk again.”

On Friday, the former Lower Burrell resident was laboring on a treadmill for a roomful of onlookers at the HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital in Indiana Township.

Thanks to the AutoAmbulator, people like Rayburg are learning to walk again. The machine, developed by HealthSouth and used at the hospital for the past two months, suspends patients in a harness while robotic braces move their legs across a treadmill.
A computer monitors the speed patients walk and the percentage of body weight they’re carrying on their legs.

The machine is unique to HealthSouth and considered a radical improvement over previous Physical Therapy methods such as aquatics, which still are used in addition to the AutoAmbulator.

“This is an advancement of technology,” said Richard Bonfiglio, medical director of the Harmarville facility.

The idea, said Chris Venus, spinal cord injury program coordinator, is to retrain patients to walk.

Megan Greene, of Plum, wasn’t told by doctors that she might never walk again. But the outlook for her recovery was bleak following a horse-riding accident in December 2000, when she was 13.

Greene could not move her arms and legs, though she had feeling in all of her extremities. Gradually, she regained movement in her arms. Today the Plum High School junior, like Rayburg and another dozen patients at the Harmarville facility, is reaping the benefits of the ever-changing medical world.

“You have to try to help (the machine),” Greene said. “You have to kind of retrain yourself to go through the motions again.”

Greene and Rayburg, who moved to Greensburg and graduated from Greensburg Central Catholic High School in 2003, use the machine between one and three times a week. Their time spent on the machine varies depending on how they feel, but Dale Reckless, outpatient rehabilitation coordinator at HealthSouth Harmarville, said it’s typical for patients to spend an hour — breaks included — on the AutoAmbulator.

“It’s amazing she’s come this far,” said Greene’s mother, Terri DiGuilio. “She’s really worked hard.

“She has a great attitude. Very focused and positive.”

Rob Amen can be reached at or (724) 224-4661.

By Rob Amen

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