Wolf Creek Care Center has taken delivery of one of medicine’s latest robotic advances — a Tibion Bionic Leg, which enables its staff to help stroke patients and others escape life in a wheelchair by recovering their ability to walk.
The Bionic Leg acquired by Wolf Creek is the 100th such device delivered by Tibion Corporation, a Silicon Valley startup based in Sunnyvale, according to a news release.
Each year, almost half of the more than 700,000 Americans who survive a stroke are left with weakness in the leg on their affected side, which impairs their ability to walk. About 3 million chronic stroke survivors struggle with walkers and canes that put them at risk of a dangerous fall. Until recently, medicine believed that whatever disability remained a year after stroke was essentially irreversible.
The Tibion Bionic Leg is novel wearable robotic device that enables stroke survivors to regain strength and control in their impaired leg. Through repetitive sit-to-stand transfers, stepping and stairclimbing with the Bionic Leg, patients appear to encourage the brain to “reprogram” around stroke-damaged nerve pathways so that they regain the ability to put full weight on their affected legs — even 10 or more years post-stroke.
Kelorie Westlund, facility rehab director at Wolf Creek, said both staff and patients are delighted with their new rehabilitation tool:
“It’s just fantastic,” Westlund said. “We use it on new admissions and on our long-term residents. It’s broadening our therapists’ horizons regarding what we can do for patients who’ve frustrated us in the past because conventional therapy just couldn’t get them to the state of independence they wanted — and we wanted for them.”
Westlund reports that the staff now looks at each debilitated patient in their 60-bed facility and considers whether he might be a candidate for Bionic Leg therapy.
“One patient we’re successfully rehabilitating with the Bionic Leg is a recent admission from Sierra Nevada Hospital across the street. One of the reasons we earned the referral is because we have a Bionic Leg. In just a few weeks of therapy, we see him making gains we could not expect to see even after months of traditional gait therapy,” Westlund said.
“We also put our new Bionic Leg on one of our long-term patients who had a stroke many, many years ago,” Westlund added. “Like most stroke patients, he’d developed what we call a ‘compensated’ gait, putting as little weight as possible on his affected leg as he struggled with a walker. That’s exhausting and put him at risk of a fall, which could break a hip. Despite the years that passed since this resident’s stroke, we’re seeing him reacquire his strength and more appropriate weight shifting — at least twice as fast as we could have expected.”
Peter Stack, director of admissions at Wolf Creek, believes the new Bionic Leg will prove a magnet for referrals from Sierra Nevada and other hospitals in the area.
“We can now provide superior rehabilitation for patients with a wide range of disabilities following surgery or trauma as well as stroke,” Stack said in a statement.
“For example, total hip and knee patients can be excellent candidates for Bionic Leg therapy at Wolf Creek. … By the time many total joint patients get their surgery, they’ve usually put up with years of pain, and they’ve developed a risky gait and abnormal techniques of climbing stairs. The post-op pain of their new hip or knee doesn’t encourage them to break those bad habits. But with the Bionic Leg, we can take the weight off their painful limb and help them gradually reacquire a safer, normal way of walking and climbing the steps in their homes.”