Entries in Wheelchair (5)


Wheelchair Dance: Paraplegic Finds Family in Recovery

Courtesy Matthew Castelluccio(NEW YORK) -- After a tragic motorcycle accident that left then 26-year-old Matthew Castelluccio a paraplegic, his dreams of marriage and children seemed completely out of reach. But in one of life’s little twists of fate, the accident that threatened to steal Matt’s dreams made them come true.

During his treatment Castelluccio met Elaine Defrancesco, Director of Adaptive Sports at Helen Hayes Hospital in New York. His spirit and unwillingness to let his accident define him moved Defrancesco to fall in love.

The couple was married. Shortly after telling their story to 20/20 (broadcasting on Saturday), which focuses on Castelluccio’s involvement with Roll Call Wheelchair Dance, a nonprofit that helps the disabled through dance — they shared more great news. They welcomed twin boys, Robert James and Dominic Michael, to their family in April.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


'Ekso' Robot Helps Wheelchair-Bound Patients Walk Again

Jody Bank/Kessler Foundation(NEW YORK) -- Chris Tagatac thought he would never walk again.  He fell 25 feet from his Vermont roof in July 2011, and was paralyzed from the sternum down.

But six months later, with the aid of a wearable robot called "Ekso" (short for exoskeleton), he took his first steps -- 52 of them, to be exact.

"The first thing my mother did was put her hand to her mouth and said, 'amazing,'" Tagatac, 49, told ABC News.  "When my daughter saw me walk for the first time after six or seven months, she looked at me and said, 'I forgot how tall you were.'"

Tagatac is one of 12 patients using the Ekso for a study under Dr. Gail Forrest, who directs the Kessler Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network.  Her preliminary findings showed that patients took in more oxygen when they were standing and walking compared with the resting position, in addition to other health benefits.  She also saw increased muscle "firing" or electrical activity in paraplegics' lower legs, but that's because muscles are being stretched, not because they are becoming functional again.

"We're going from these being just perhaps gimmicks that allow people to stand and walk, and we're starting to see that people using these things could actually benefit from them," said Dr. Trevor Dyson-Hudson, the director of spinal cord injury research at Kessler Foundation.  "These are all very early results, but it's a huge potential that these things could perhaps be incorporated into rehabilitation."

Versions of the Ekso have been around since 2010, and 11 other centers are using it.  Forrest said her new research involves attaching external electrodes to patients' bodies to record data about how they respond to the device.  After collecting data for a few months, Forrest is already seeing evidence that patients benefit physically from the Ekso -- not to mention the emotional boost patients get from being able to look people in the eye.

Forrest presented her findings Monday at a meeting in Las Vegas, and is continuing to research patients' cardiovascular, muscular system and circulatory systems, among other things.

Since Tagatac had the natural body awareness of an athlete before his accident, and his injury was recent enough that standing doesn't cause the dramatic change in his blood pressure common with long-term wheelchair-bound patients, he was invited to participate in an Ekso study three days a week.

"I consider myself extremely lucky to be chosen," he said. "After being told six months before that I'll never be able to walk again, and to be able to take that that first step six months after being injured was amazing."

At his last session, Tagatac walked 3,000 steps in one hour.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hospital Room Designed for the Patient, by the Patient

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- You may not know that famed architect Michael Graves is in a wheelchair, although many of us know his name, because we buy his well-designed home products sold at Target stores.

At TedMed, an annual conference focusing on health and medicine, Graves told his story of paralysis.  From his wheelchair, Graves shared that in 2003 he had been running around the world, traveling nonstop to create his incredible designs, when he got a sinus cold he could not get rid of.  He could not ignore it, because the next day it had spread and became a pain in his back.  He had no choice but to take himself to the hospital, and by the next morning, he was paralyzed.  Doctors told him he had something that only four other people in the world had.  His sinus infection had gone to his brain and then his spine, resulting in paralysis.  It’s still not clear what the infection was.

Graves spent months in the hospital undergoing rehab.  He learned quickly how poorly designed the hospital room was for a wheelchair-confined person.  Tasks like shaving and reaching the sink were troublesome for him.

Graves knew he had to do something. While he still designs buildings and products, he has gone on to design furniture -- tables, chairs, tools for the hospital room that meet patients’ needs.  His furniture designs are simple and make sense -- a table with a handle and two levels, so you can separate your tissues and medicines from your newspaper and candy.

He also designed a simple trash can that could fit under the bedside table.  Another of his designs is a chair with holes in the back, so that when a patient puts a sheet on it before sitting down (something, he said, patients often do to keep the chair germ free) it doesn’t come off with the patient when the patient stands up.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Brain Waves Experiment Offers Hope to the Disabled

A.J. Doud et al, PLoS ONE(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Imagine a person who is confined to a wheelchair but can still get around through nothing less than the power of thought.

Neuroscientists have experimented with brain waves for years, making slow progress.  But now, Dr. Bin He of the University of Minnesota and his team report a promising experiment.

They outfitted volunteers with caps with EEG sensors, and asked them to steer a helicopter on a computer screen through a series of randomly generated rings that appeared on the screen ahead of it.  There were no hand controls, no joysticks.  They could only try to will the helicopter forward with their minds.

It worked surprisingly well, Dr. He and his colleagues reported in the current issue of the online journal PLoS One. Eighty-five percent of the time, the volunteers could steer the virtual helicopter accurately.

"People have never done anything like this using noninvasive techniques," said He in a telephone interview.

There have been other experiments before, but the most successful required that electrodes be surgically implanted in the brain.  In one famous case, Massachusetts researchers were able to get a young quadriplegic man to steer his own wheelchair -- but he ended the experiment, partly because he hated having wires inside his skull.

"Our technique was noninvasive," said He.  The BCI -- short for brain-computer interface -- "is approaching the reliability that used to be done only by invasive procedures, though I will not say that it is better yet."

The challenge in using EEG signals is that they are, in the jargon of scientists, "noisy."  The brain generates minute amounts of electricity as one thinks, and sensors can detect it, but readouts can look like random vibrations, and it is hard to tease out, say, a signal that means you want to turn left or right.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wheelchair-Bound Bride Determined to Walk Down the Aisle

Michael Blann/Thinkstock(ONTARIO, Canada) -- When Jennifer Darmon and Mike Belawetz get married next month, the ceremony will be especially emotional because Jen plans to get out of her wheelchair and walk down the aisle.

"It was Mike's idea," says Jen, 28, who was paralyzed in a 2008 car crash. "I was thinking there's no way I'm going to roll down the aisle. Mike said, why don't you walk with two people on both arms. They will be your crutches."

Jen travels three times a week from her home in Ontario, Canada, to the Detroit Medical Center's Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan for aggressive therapy designed to treat people with devastating spinal-cord injuries.

She and Mike, who has stood by her despite her paralysis, are recording her progress in a video diary, "Walk for Love," on the institute's website. There have been two episodes so far, with a third due to be posted on Tuesday.

They are making the videos to inspire other paralysis victims. "Somebody else might see it and it might motivate them to achieve their goals. Nothing is impossible," Jen says.

On July 27, 2008, Jen, Mike and five other friends were headed to the beach in Grand Bend, Ontario, when their minivan was struck head-on. The other passengers got out of the van without serious injuries, but she was trapped, and Mike and his friends had to get her out.

She was airlifted to London Hospital where she was in intensive care for a week and learned that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

When Jen was told soon after the crash that she would never walk again, "it kind of crossed my mind that he might not stay," she says in the video about Mike. "Right away he reassured me that he wasn't going anywhere."

"The situation's changed, but she's still the same person, " says Mike.

Last June, on the fourth anniversary of their romance, he proposed, and Jen began her fight to walk down the aisle, wearing braces on her legs.

She is practicing at the rehabilitation facility where she has been treated since the fall of 2008, wearing an old wedding dress belonging to a therapist there. "She said, 'I just got married, and you're more than welcome to borrow my dress to practice in,'" says Jen.

During the practice, Jen balances herself by holding onto to parallel bars, explains Cheryl Angelelli, a spokeswoman for the institute. "Her goal on her wedding day is to walk with her dad holding her on one side and her brother on the other," she said.

Doctors believe Jen will be able to walk short distances in the future using crutches, Angelelli said. "She's a very, very determined young woman. She has the best attendance out of any client in our program. She's very committed."

"Once I want to achieve something, I always give it 100%," Jen says. "I was like that before the injuries."

She has always been organized, too, and says she is nearly all ready for the wedding. Her dress is strapless and A-line. "When I walk, you can't see my braces under my dress," she explains. "I have everything booked, bought--I just need to get a pair of shoes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio