The following Healthcast report by medical editor Marilyn Brooks first aired July 9, 2004, on Channel 4 Action News at 5 p.m.
For the last three years, Megan Greene has lived in a wheelchair. She hopes a machine called the AutoAmbulator will get her back on her feet again. There are only 14 of the machines in the U.S., and one of them is at Healthsouth in Harmarville.
Greene: “The hardest part is that you want so badly to be able to do it by yourself and you just have to realize it’s going to take time.”
She was just 13 when she was thrown from a horse. She landed on her back and blacked out.
Greene: “When I came back to, I couldn’t feel my legs and I couldn’t feel my arms.”
She has an incomplete spinal cord injury. Feeling and function quickly returned to her arms, but not her legs. She can sense pressure, hot, and cold but she can’t walk — at least, not yet.
Chris Venus, senior therapist: “She has less to work with, so she has more work to do to get back to normal.”
The machine supports Greene and gives her the right posture to walk, while robotic legs reinforce a normal symmetrical walking pattern. Sensors track her functions and constantly monitor power and speed, according to her physical requirements.
This machine is not just for those with spinal cord injuries. Physical therapists are also working with people who have had a stroke, brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Will it make them walk again? There’s no 100guarantee, but we do know it can help.
It’s helping Scott Rayburg, 19. An auto accident last October gave him an Incomplete Injury to his Lumbar spinal cord. He has regained his left leg, and it looks like he’ll regain his right.
Venus: “The hope of this machine is that it can stimulate what’s called the central pattern generator in the spinal cord, which is more of like a reflexive action.”
Research suggests it can happen. Greene may be one of many to prove it right or wrong.
Greene: “Anything better than what you are now is an improvement, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Therapists at Healthsouth in Harmarville have only had the AutoAmbulator for two months. They’ll have to wait and see whether it lives up to their expectations and Greene’s dreams.
Copyright 2004 by ThePittsburghChannel. All rights reserved.