Daily Herald
Robot helps stroke victims recover their walking ability
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Correspondent
Published: 9/22/2009 12:03 AM | Updated: 9/22/2009 11:16 AM

Less than three years after suffering a stroke, Rich Schmuldt of Schaumburg feels strong enough to roller skate again.

The one time floor guard at area roller rinks is a participant in a research study at Alexian Rehabilitation Hospital in Elk Grove Village, using its state-of-the-art KineAssist Robot.

Schmuldt and the new robotic device were featured Monday during the hospital's kickoff of National Rehabilitation Week. The robot is part of a joint venture study between Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

On hand to see the cutting edge therapy available to the stroke patients were Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson and neurologists from Alexian Brothers Medical Center.

"If a person reaches Alexian Brothers up to three hours after suffering a stroke, they can reverse the effect," Johnson said. "I tell people all the time that they don't need to leave the village for expert care. These people are dedicated and committed to what they do, and we're proud to have them in Elk Grove."

Alexian Rehabilitation Hospital is the only community-based hospital to use the KineAssist Robot to help stroke victims learn to walk again, officials said.

Patients are strapped into the device with harnesses designed by the same team that worked with Cirque de Soleil.

"It allows me to challenge him in ways I wouldn't do without the robot," says Linda Foster, a licensed physical therapist and research coordinator for the hospital.

The wheeled machine uses arms and a harness to give patients different degrees of support as their ability to walk improves. At first, the robot might support all of a patient's weight as he slowly moves straight forward.

As patients get stronger and more coordinated, the robot lets them bear more weight and move more freely in different directions. The robot then follows the patient's lead, sensing if the patient is starting to fall, and nudging them if they veer off balance.

"It's helped my agility and my balance tremendously," says Schmuldt, 65. "I used to have trouble walking down the driveway, pulling a garden hose or the garbage. Now, I have much more confidence."

Schmuldt was the seventh patient to participate in the research program led by Foster. He met the criteria of being within four years of having a stroke, able to walk by himself, and he had completed traditional therapy.

Foster is seeking more subjects for her research study. If you meet the criteria, call Foster at (847) 640-5600, ext. 3752.