High-Tech Autoambulator Gives Physician a Hand in Learning to Walk Again
Alexander Latty used to run six to seven miles a day. That, however, was before the 61-year-old Boxford, Massachusetts physician had a stroke that left him bedridden and paralyzed on his right side following an operation to control an aneurysm.
Soon after his stroke, Latty embarked on a regimen of intense therapies at New England Rehabilitation Hospital (NERH) in Woburn, Mass., designed to restore his strength and physical agility. Besides occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, he became one of the first people in the United States to try the AutoAmbulator, the refined invention of Gary West, an Arkansas mechanical engineer. The AutoAmbulator is a sleek blend of physics, robotics, and computer technology that allows people like Latty, who have not been able to use their legs due to injury or illness, to simulate the natural gait of walking. Data available through corporate indicates that patients who have used the device regularly have improved gaits and muscle tone.
Latty said that despite his medical background, he had never heard of the AutoAmbulator before becoming a patient. "And I had no reservations about trying this at all," he said, while "walking" in a therapy session at NERH.
With his physical therapist, Sharon Taylor, and his wife, Bonnie, at his side, Latty walks with a mission. "This feels good," he said. "It teaches you regular walking and how to do it right."
The AutoAmbulator resembles a high-tech treadmill. A harness provides support, and straps are placed around patients' legs and ankles that both offer support and transmit information about the muscles to a computer display that faces the patient during the therapy. The data are recorded by the attending physical therapist and by patients.
"The first time he tried this, his right foot would drag," said Bonnie Latty, while observing her husband's recovery. After about a month of weekly sessions, Latty's right foot more accurately resembled the walking position. His goal now, Bonnie said, is to be back out running those six to seven miles a day.
While he's not quite up to that level yet, Dr. Latty is on his way, running about two miles a day on a treadmill. He walks with virtually no trace of a limp, and his speech, once noticeably slurred, is perfect. Ironically, his handwriting is even better than before his stroke, a product of taking extra time to form his letters. What's more, he has returned to his medical practice, seeing patients three days a week with no restrictions. Finally, he has gone back to being the physician rather than the patient.