New hope for MS patients

June 22, 2009 12:32:22 PM PDT
Multiple sclerosis is one of the most devastating diseases in the world and something that I was diagnosed with more than fifteen years. MS is a silent thief that can rob some patients of their ability to do many things they once took for granted. But now there may be new hope for some patients living with MS, thanks to a device that can fit in the palm of your hand.

Ernie Griewe is a military veteran who spent many physically active years in the U.S. Navy. But his military career and life were shattered when he began experiencing symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

"Itching sensations," he said. "Feel like bugs are crawling all over you or electric shocks going up my leg."

MS is a disease of the nervous system. It disrupts communication between the brain and body, leading to loss of movement and paralysis. And there is no cure.

After receiving his diagnosis, Ernie turned to a walker to get around. But then one day at a MS support group meeting, he found out about a remarkable device that offers new hope for MS patients.

"I understood what it was gonna do," he said. "It's gonna stimulate the nerve that couldn't stimulate from up here anymore."

The device is called the "Walk-Aide." It's no bigger than an iPod and you just strap it on. It instantly sends a signal to the leg.

"It works immediately," said Griewe.

It tells the foot to raise and lower.

"The theory behind this device is to offer another solution for people suffering from foot drop," said Denise Gouge with Innovative Neurotronics.

Foot drop is a condition associated with MS where a patient can no longer flex his or her ankle and walk normally.

Gouge is a rehabilitation specialist at Innovative Neurotronics. She says the Walk-Aide uses cutting-edge technology to help MS patients stride more easily.

"A signal is sent through these tiny electrodes into the nerve, so that that impulse goes down into the foot to activate the foot to life," said Gouge.

Griewe says it's made a huge difference for him, allowing him to move from a walker to a cane.

Tom Dibello, president of Dynamic Orthodics of Houston, says he can one day see the know-how behind Walk-Aide doing much more.

"The hope is that for folks that use this type of technology, there will be a real change in their underlying condition," he said.

Ernie used his Walk Aide on a recent trip to Las Vegas and says he was able to do more and see more for a longer period of time.

"This is one thing that takes a burden off because it's easier to walk," said Griewe. "I expend less energy. I'm less self conscious."

The device is not a cure for MS, but experts say it can give users more independence.

The walk aide costs about $5,500. It's covered by insurance about 40 percent of the time. In addition to MS patients, it can also help victims of stroke, spinal cord injury and cerebral palsy.

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