Brain in a Box: Woman With MS Shows Improvement

A device the size of an iPod acts as a "brain," sending messages to foot.


Jan. 29, 2008 — -- Three years ago Debbie Gomez-Trost was living her dream, watching her triplets grow up and enjoying her new home.

"Everything was golden," Gomez-Trost said. "We had kids we always wanted, the house we always wanted. Everything we wanted and then one day, somebody turned the switch off."

That's when she received a devastating diagnosis — she had multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease of the nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and body. It can lead to loss of movement and paralysis, and there is no cure.

"I was only 40 years old, my kids were 7, they were in first grade," she said. "Your whole life changes."

Gomez-Trost worried most about her family. "I was afraid I wouldn't see them grow up," she said.

As the disease progressed, everyday activities like walking up the stairs or chasing after her kids became more and more difficult and exhausting. Gomez-Trost had to give up the hobbies she once enjoyed and was pained by an uncomfortable brace she had to wear to help her paralyzed right leg.

Struggling to walk, she experienced a condition called foot drop, where she could no longer flex her ankle and walk normally.

"The fatigue was the thing I had to fight," she said. "It's very frustrating."

Then in the summer 2006, Gomez-Trost received a glimmer of hope in the form of a new device called the WalkAide that helps with footdrop.

Click here to find out more about the WalkAide .

"It sends a stimulation to the appropriate nerve to help them pick up the foot to give them a normal gait pattern when they walk," said Brian Karban, an orthotist at Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics.

The device, about the size of an iPod, is strapped around the calf, and a gentle electric signal is sent from the device to the leg, telling the foot to lift and lower.

The WalkAide helped regenerate communication between Gomez-Trost's brain and her foot.

"When I first put it on all I could say was awesome, awesome," she said.

Without the WalkAide, Gomez-Trost limped along with the help of a cane. Using the device, she is able to climb stairs with no visible limp.

"With the WalkAide I was able to decrease the fatigue that my body was feeling," Gomez-Trost said. "When you have footdrop, inside your head you're having a conversation. You're telling your leg and foot, up down up down. So the WalkAide is kind of like a brain in a box. I don't have to think about it it's a naturally occurring event."

Best of all, she can now keep up with her kids.

"They're 9, I can't run foot for foot with them, but I can do the stairs really easy now," she said. "We go for walks again. I'm able to walk down the street again."

Her husband, Bob Trost, said that the improvement has been monumental.

"It's changed our whole family's life," Trost said. "I got my wife back. She's able to be with the kids. She's a ball of fire now, she's always on the go."

Though Gomez-Trost still sometimes uses a cane, the WalkAide has made her more comfortable and boosted her confidence.

"It's really changed my life a lot," she said. "Life-altering events really don't happen that much, and it happened to me."

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