Biofeedback Helps Teen with Brain Injury

In a slow, deliberate voice, Joe White can tell you how life is different since his accident in October 2006.

"Really hard," he says. "Really hard.

Joe, then a senior at Washburn Rural High School, jumped from a moving car while out with friends. He suffered a brain injury that left him partially paralyzed. But his determination remains.

"Hard worker," he says with a smile. "That's me."

Joe can now get around with a cane, but the movement is still awkward. He's hoping a unique type of biofeedback at Stormont-Vail Outpatient Rehabilitation Services will help him walk normally again.

Occupational therapist Mary Gardner describes it as teaching the brain how to send a message to a muscle that's paralyzed. She says the therapy reteaches the brain to find cells not damaged to take over the role of sending a message to the paralyzed muscles.

Surface electrodes are placed on the paralyzed area. The electrodes monitor the signals from the muscles and translates them into lines on a computer screen. Gardner says at the moment the patient is attempting a motion, they can see whether they're doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Over time, the brain learns to make the connections.

Gardner says the biofeedback is part of the therapy puzzle. It's an important part, she says, because "it reconnects the brain to the muscle, and without that, you can't strengthen the muscle."

Though it takes time, Joe has his motto -- never give up -- on a bracelet always worn on his arm. He says he's certain he'll one day realize his dream.

"No cane. Walking pretty good. Wow! That's amazing!" he said.

The biofeedback is usually done for an hour a week, along with other physical or occupational therapy. Gardner says it's helpful for most paralysis due to brain or spinal cord injury, or stroke.

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