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Doctor invents device to help stroke patients walk again

Posted on May. 10, 2011 ( comments)

From Q13 Fox:

A medical device invented right here in Western Washington could dramatically improve the quality of life for stroke patients.

Steven Caviness is using it to learn to walk again after suffering a massive stroke on the golf course six years ago. It took a month for him to talk again, but walking has been his greatest challenge. Frustrated and unable to work, he heard about a new study at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

Dr. David Embrey invented the Gait MyoElectric Stimulator to help stroke patients like Steve. Sensors attached to each leg connect to a shoe insole and belt pack. When the patient stands up and starts to move, the device electrically stimulates the muscles needed to walk.

“With that stimulus it got my foot pointing up instead of dragging on the ground,” says Caviness.

Additionally, the stroke program at Good Samaritan Hospital was chosen as the beneficiary for the 2011 Northwest Corks & Crush wine tasting and gala dinner auction May 21. Celebrating five years of collaboration with Washington wineries, Northwest Corks & Crush has raised nearly $2 million for health care programs and services at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. To make reservations or for more information, please visit our website at

What: Northwest Corks & Crush
5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 21
The Puyallup Fair & Events Center, 110 Ninth Ave. S.W., Puyallup
Black tie optional
$200 per person, by reservation only
253-697-5090 or [email protected]

Here's a more complete story ...

Doctor receives patent for new way to treat stroke patients

Dr. David Embrey has received a U.S. patent for a medical breakthrough that shows promise treating patients with stroke, children with cerebral palsy and people with multiple sclerosis. The device, called a Gait MyoElectric Stimulator, stimulates the muscles that lift the foot and drive the foot forward while walking.

Embrey is the research program coordinator with Children’s Therapy Unit at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.

A clinical study in Western Washington showed that three months of treatment with the device improved the walking ability of adults with hemiplegia – where one side of the body is weak or paralyzed. The benefits remained even after treatment stopped.

One of the people who tested Embrey’s device is 69-year-old Robert B. After a stroke, Robert’s right leg experienced “drop foot” -- caused by the inability to lift the toes when stepping forward in the swing phase of walking. This problem can cause falls and injuries.

“You could feel it twitch your muscle in your leg to help you pick up your foot,” said Robert, who lives in the Spanaway-Parkland area. “When I first started using it, you could feel a small shock similar to a bee sting, but that went away right away. Once you adjust it, you don’t even notice. It’s an amazing device.”

Robert walked with the device every day for three months.

“After the three months, I continued walking, and my foot was still coming up OK,” Robert said. “It helped to train my muscles in my right leg to pick up like they’re supposed to.”

“It worked really well,” he said.

More than 4 million adults in the U.S. have impairments due to stroke.

Last month, Embrey presented his findings at the Movement Performance Institute in Los Angeles. Embrey’s research has also been published in the prestigious Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (Read the study.)

Embrey’s device looks simple: A shoe insole is wired to a cell-phone sized box worn on the hip, which sends signals to sensors that attach to the muscles of the opposite leg.

When the strong foot steps forward, the device stimulates the muscles in the weak leg to do the opposite.

“The real invention is the idea that you need to trigger the stimulation with the opposite leg,” Embrey said. “It’s not rocket science.”

Embrey’s breakthrough idea for his invention didn’t come to him while he worked with one of his young patients with cerebral palsy. The revelation arrived while he studied the gait of the boy’s healthy brother.

Embrey ­-- who says he “hates technology” -- used his computer to study graphs of data from the two young brothers.

After months of frustration, Embrey looked up at the ceiling and said, “All right, God. There’s something I’m supposed to see, and I just don’t get it.”

When he looked back at the screen, the answer was clear.

“He gave me the idea,” said Embrey, a Texas native whose strong faith was influenced by his father and grandfather, who were Southern preachers. “We really do have a holy spirit in us that will speak to us and guide us.”

With the healthy brother, Embrey noticed the efficiency of the boy’s movement – to lift his toes while walking, for example, the shin muscle would contract and the calf muscle would release. Then the calf would contract and the shin muscle would release: perfect timing for the perfect step.

The boy with cerebral palsy, who struggled to walk, showed almost no pattern – opposing muscles flexed at the same time as the boy moved in a jerky motion.

To duplicate the timing of a healthy walk, Embrey realized that muscles in a weak leg needed to be turned on and off – and the key was to use the timing of the opposite foot as the trigger.

Embrey invented the device with the help of a friend he knew from UW Children’s Hospital, Sam Augsburger, now the director of the Motion Analysis Laboratory at Shriners Hospital for Children in Lexington, Ky.

While Embrey and Augsburger are listed as inventors on the patent, the assignee is Good Samaritan Hospital’s Children’s Therapy Unit, which holds the rights to the device.

Embrey also gives credit to the Hillard Trust, which funded the first study.

“It never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Florence Hillard,” said Embrey.

In the 1980s, Hillard’s brother suffered a stroke. Hillard was so impressed with the outstanding care her brother received at Good Samaritan that she made provisions in her will to establish a trust in support of stroke research and education at the hospital.

Up next: Embrey submitted a grant application this month to redesign the device to make it wireless and improve the sensors. The device was previously studied on people with chronic stroke – more than a year since the stroke. He now hopes to get funding for a study on sub-acute stroke – immediately after a person has been stabilized in the hospital and sent to rehab.

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