Rehab renovation gets patients moving

Catherine Johnson, left, physical medicines and rehabilitation manager at Mayo, makes final adjustments on the new anti-gravity treadmill as physical therapist Kelly Carlson demonstrates.

A renovation project and addition of state-of-the-art equipment has contributed to a new look for the rehabilitation department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont.

More private treatment spaces have been added, and walls have been removed. Former administration areas have been opened up.

But the centerpiece of the rejuvenated area is an anti-gravity machine, a $26,000 gift from the Fairmont Community Hospital Foundation.

“It was a rare gift. It’s very unusual for a community of this size to have that high-tech advanced technology, and we’re extremely blessed,” said Catherine Johnson, physical medicines and rehabilitation manager.

The anti-gravity machine resembles a treadmill on steroids. Utilizing specially-designed shorts that zip into an inflatable plastic bubble, the unit can be set up in a couple of minutes and can alleviate up to 80 percent of a person’s body weight, reducing stress or injuries.

“The technology is called differential air pressure, and it was developed by NASA for the astronauts,” Johnson said. “This is an unusual treadmill in that most treadmills go forward and uphill, but this one can actually go backwards. Think of the way athletes move. These have been very popular with professional sports teams. They can keep their athletes exercising through injuries. They can keep their cardiovascular conditioning, their coordination.”

“But you can’t levitate, much to the distress of the little kids.”

The machine adapts to all ages and sizes. Since receiving the treadmill in October, the youngest patient has been 9 years old, with the oldest user about 65.

“It really doesn’t work well for people under 70 pounds, but it will go up to 400 pounds. There’s a very large range, and they don’t necessarily have to be able to walk,” Johnson said.

A monitor allows the patient and the therapist to view the front, back or side view of the feet and legs in the bubble. Speed can be increased to 10 mph.

“You literally can’t fall down. People love it. We’ve worked with everything from people who have cerebral palsy to people who have broken themselves up in car accidents to people with ankle injuries,” Johnson said.

She pointed out the DynaVision and cardio machine, two units that have been added in the past weeks as part of Mayo’s continued investment in its medical facilities.

The $5,000 cardio machine allows patients to stretch their arms or their legs while sitting and pushing pedals.

“With a stationary bicycle or stepper, the frail or elderly have a balance issue so this is one way those people can get exercise,” she said.

“And because people are getting larger — taller and broader — as a population, this particular piece of equipment can accommodate a person up to 500 pounds. Pretty much anyone can use it. It will go small enough to fit a 7-year-old and large enough to fit someone who’s almost 7 feet tall.”

The DynaVision, with a price tag of almost $18,000, hasn’t been used yet due to the renovation project still being a work in progress. The large black square, similar in size to a jumbo bulletin board, is embedded with lights to help people work with peripheral vision. This can be a gauge for driving abilities or for an athlete’s reaction. Johnson anticipates the staff will receive training on the DynaVision within the next month.

The renovation project started in June with local firms Hertzke Construction, Day Plumbing, DeWar Electric and Kahler Electric working with Mayo facility’s staff, headed by Eric Morris, and she credits the various crews with trying to keep as disruption at a minimum for patients and therapists. This led to some creative maneuvers and temporary relocations for appointments.

The department’s staff includes 19 therapists and aides who work with speech, occupational and physical rehabilitation for hospital patients, out-patients and Lutz Wing residents.

“Much of what we do involves movement, helping people move more easily, more freely,” said Johnson, adding that the redesign and upgrades in the main rehabilitation room, called the gym, has supported that process.

The wood floor covering is the same type used in sports facilities and gymnasiums, with a cushioned design that lessens impact. Each 10-foot span of dark wood is divided with a foot-wide strip of light wood. These sections help measure how far and how fast a patient can walk.

“One of the things we don’t typically think about people needing to do is cross the street in a timely manner,” Johnson said. “This way, we can work with them on how long it will take. For sprinters who want to make a quick start, you can see how fast they come along.”

The occupational therapy room was upgraded about two years ago with a gym area and a functioning kitchen where patients learn how to perform everyday actions.

“We have a kitchen so they can practice what they need to do when they go home. They do actual cooking and cleanup. We love it when they make cookies,” Johnson said.

Speech therapy patients are helped in an area adjacent to the physical therapy area. New private treatment rooms have been incorporated in the remodeling effort, with all the renovations throughout the entire rehabilitation area focused on one goal.

“We want to help people get better faster,” Johnson said.

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