Former Olympic ice skating competitor Fonda Figge never expected to become a customer of her own employer. In the winter of '16/'17, the newly hired marketing representative for Rekovo was slowing to take a freeway exit ramp outside Columbus, Ohio. Behind her, a driver who was texting rear-ended her vehicle at 75 mph.
When she woke up in the hospital, Fonda started with the usual questions, "Where am I? What happened?" A doctor leaned over and gently whispered in her ear, "Fonda, you are making sounds but you are not actually speaking words. Someday you will be OK but it is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time."
Brad Burns was an active outdoorsman, athlete and hiker. A near-fatal car wreck left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was told he would improve but never walk again. The neural pathways his brain uses to instruct leg muscles what to do had been irreparably damaged.
Similar stories from wounded warriors, injured construction workers, and the very aged, all confined to wheelchairs, made their way do Dr. Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, PhD, MFA, CRC, a research scientist at Ohio State University. She developed a rehabilitation technology she calls "embedded arts." In cooperation with Alex Purtell, Dr. Worthen-Chaudhari's innovation became a company, Rekovo, and Purtell the CEO.
Adequately describing in words Rekovo's "embedded arts" technology is difficult but the company's 60-second video is, as they say, worth at least a thousand words. In it, formerly paralyzed Brad Burns can be seen creating drawings with leg movements while supported by a walker. To use the Rekovo system, a clinician, typically a physical therapist, attaches sensors to the injured person's body, typically the affected limbs. A nearby computer detects movement of the sensors and traces those movements in colorful images on its screen. After a workout session, the PT can print out the work of art the patient created with whatever movements he or she was able to manage.
Like Brad Burns, when Fonda Figge began using the device she had previously been selling, her ability to function began to return. "I was an Olympic athlete, so I knew how to train," she told us, "but this was hard. I often got dizzy, lost my balance, and became discouraged. But I stuck to it and strange things began to happen. My balance returned, my headaches lessened, I started to walk again. With the encouraging messages I constantly received from my therapist, I kept at it."
Rekovo utilizes a gyroscope sensor that requires implicit process to negotiate movement and allows for dual task completion. What was happening to her, Fonda was told, was that by playing the Rekovo games and creating onscreen art with it, her brain was building new pathways around the ones that were no longer working. Patients like Fonda describe the exercises and games as fun, challenging, and rewarding. Dr. Worthen-Chaudhari describes her innovation as "rerouting neural networks around the damaged area of the brain, gradually restoring function that previously would have been impossible." Other doctors, including the most skeptical, have reportedly been astounded at the brain's ability to build new neural pathways.
With support from grants, investors, and the University of Ohio Wexler Medical Center, Rekovo plans to offer its system to skilled nursing facilities and home health providers. In a residential facility, Fonda told us, one or more Rekovo devices will be set up in a common area such as an exercise room. For home health, the entire system fits into a small, lightweight carrying case. Agencies can choose to provide one for each physical therapist, who would carry it from home to home, or to offer a patient a unit that would stay in the home for daily use.
©2019 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Tim Rowan's Home Care Technology Report. homecaretechreport.com One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only. firstname.lastname@example.org