EAST LIVERPOOL-After suffering a stroke in 2011, Barbara Phelps wondered if she'd ever dance again.
The stroke left her with a limited range of motion on the right side, so much so that she had to learn to write with her left hand. Today, she walks with a limp and is slowly regaining the use of her right arm with the help of advanced technology that only recently became available to stroke survivors.
Phelps, 73, of East Liverpool, is one of 18 residents of northeast Ohio who wear the MyoPro arm brace developed by Geauga Rehabilitation Engineering (GRE) Orthotics and Prosthetics, of Chardon, Ohio.
Barbara Phelps, 73, of East Liverpool, demonstrates how she puts on the MyoPro powered brace. Phelps has been recovering from a stroke since June 2011. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Through daily exercises with the MyoPro brace, Phelps said she is experiencing greater range of motion, control and strength in her right arm. "It makes you stronger as far as when you move your arm, you can move it more and more," she said. "I'm quite pleased with it."
Phelps learned about the MyoPro from her dance instructor's wife, who read about it on the Internet. She researched the device and began using it in physical therapy about nine months ago, she said.
Despite slow progress, Phelps has tried to maintain a positive attitude since her stroke on June 14, 2011. "Everything works fine," she said. "My brain is fine. I can't always say what I want to say. As far as thinking, I have no problem. ... My right hand does not always open the way I'd like it to, so I use my other hand. Actually, I'm very well off."
Phelps had to be trained in the use of the MyoPro with the help of her physical therapist. It takes several minutes for her to strap the brace on, but once it's on, it covers everything from her wrist to above her elbow. She works with it about a half hour each day.
The MyoPro was developed by GRE President Jonathan Naft using technology that's supported by more than 40 years of clinical research and is the standard of care for amputees with prosthetic arms, he said.
MyoPro does not use electrical stimulation but, rather, relies on a user's own muscle signal, or electromyography (EMG), to move his or her arm. The brace uses surface electrodes on a patient's arm to receive the EMG signals and then power a motor to assist the patient in moving his or her arm, Naft said.
"After a stroke occurs, the EMG signals from the arm look like static as the brain attempts to reconnect with the arm to control movement," Naft said. "MyoPro filters the signals and magnifies them so that an impaired arm from a stroke survivor, for example, can once again perform daily living activities."
The powered brace, whose cost is often covered by a patient's medical insurance, also can be used for recovery from other neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries.
Phelps, retired after working for 42 years for the Feldman Agency, said she's grateful for the new technology and the way it's brought her life closer to normalcy. She's even begun to dance again, although not quite the way she used to.
Phelps took up ballroom dancing as a hobby after her husband died 17 years ago, she said. Among her favorite places to dance is the Avon Oaks Ballroom in Girard, Ohio, where she used to assist the dance instructor.
"It's not like it was before, when I danced every night," she said. "But I'm not complaining. I can do everything I want to do."
That includes driving, which she has been doing for about nine months. Phelps is awaiting a redesigned version of the brace that also will cover her hand and, hopefully, give her greater use of her fingers.
"One thing with a stroke-you have to try and try again," she said.