New Device Offers Hope for Stroke Patients in Regaining Strength

Retired doctor Lawrence Ettinger finds himself in an unexpected position—back in the hospital, but this time as a patient. Since suffering a stroke in 2019, Ettinger has been on a journey to regain strength and mobility in his right side. Despite his efforts in physical therapy, progress was slow and frustrating.

“Just like that, out of the blue, I was hospitalized,” Ettinger recalls. Traditional therapy alone wasn’t yielding the desired results. “He just wasn’t getting significant benefit with physical therapy in terms of recovering strength or fine motor skills in his right arm,” explained Dr. Julia Pfaff of Orlando Health Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg.

This year, however, marked a turning point. Ettinger opted to try an innovative implanted device called Vivistim. “We heard about new things out there for stroke survivors. It was FDA approved and Medicare approved,” said Ettinger.

The Vivistim device, implanted in Ettinger’s left chest wall, can be activated via a remote or a magnet swipe across the chest. “It’s like a mobile mouse, if you will, and we have a computer program that communicates with Larry’s implant,” described his occupational therapist, Kristi Richardson. The device sends signals to the brain, encouraging the formation of new pathways to aid recovery.

“The therapy is not on 24/7. It’s only on during times when the patient is using it for rehabilitative purposes,” noted Dr. Pfaff. The results have been impressive. Ettinger’s wife, Alice, has noticed significant improvements. “He couldn’t move his arm at all, and now he can lift it and raise it,” she shared.

Both Dr. Pfaff and Richardson have been astonished by Ettinger’s progress. “He has made tremendous improvements. His performance in his everyday tasks has improved, his range of motion, his grip strength,” said Richardson. Dr. Pfaff added, “It’s incredible to see him here today lifting weights when he couldn’t even lift his right arm when he came to see me for the first time.”

Ettinger, with a background in clinical research, is optimistic about the future. “It’s an improvement. I’m a patient and a former clinical researcher. It’s well worth doing,” he affirmed.

Recognizing and Preventing Strokes

While advancements like the Vivistim device offer new hope for stroke recovery, prevention and early recognition remain crucial. Here are some tips on how to avoid a stroke and recognize its symptoms:

Ways to Prevent a Stroke:

  1. Maintain a Healthy Diet: Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Reduce salt, saturated fats, and cholesterol.
  2. Exercise Regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  3. Control Blood Pressure: Monitor your blood pressure and follow your doctor’s advice to keep it within a healthy range.
  4. Manage Diabetes: Keep blood sugar levels under control through diet, exercise, and medication if necessary.
  5. Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Both can increase the risk of stroke. Seek help to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake.

Recognizing a Stroke (FAST):

  • F – Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven?
  • A-Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S – Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.
  • T – Time to Call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Quick intervention can significantly improve the chances of recovery. Understanding the signs and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to reducing the risk of strokes.

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