Learning to Walk Again

November 4, 2020 Providence News Team

Whenever Cameron Tweedy wants to remind himself how far he’s come, all he has to do is glance down at his arm. A tattoo displays the date his life changed forever: July 23, 2019.

That’s when Cameron, then 20 years old, rolled his truck five times on his way to work. He was flown to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center with a broken back, four broken ribs, a cracked sternum, a crushed ankle, a severe concussion and complete loss of function in his legs.

The Prognosis was Grim

With doctors skeptical he’d ever walk again, Cameron was in a dark place. “They thought I might be able to twitch my toes someday,” he says. But now, thanks to an innovative piece of equipment at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Cameron is able to get around on crutches and is optimistic that he’ll be able to walk down the aisle at his wedding using just a cane.

“The ZeroG is helping me learn how to trust my legs to do what they’re meant to do again,” says Cameron. The ZeroG Gait and Balance System is a robotic body-weight support system designed to help people like Cameron relearn to walk and gain balance. It removes a patient’s fear of falling during therapy, which is an obstacle to effective rehabilitation says Jake Allstot, assistant manager of rehabilitation at St. Luke’s. “Taking that first step is scary,” says Jake. “The ZeroG helps us completely take that fear away.”

The ZeroG is used to aid patients with conditions such as spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and even lower-extremity amputations. It is the only device of its kind in the Inland Northwest and is expected to serve around 1,000 adult and pediatric patients each year.

The equipment and necessary space modifications totaled $260,000 and were made possible by generous donations to Providence Health Care Foundation. Major funders included the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The ZeroG offers patients a reduced gravity-like environment, allowing them to practice a wide range of activities such as climbing up and down stairs, getting up off the floor, getting in and out of a chair and other everyday tasks. Patients wear a harness that connects to the ZeroG robot as it tracks their movements from above. A nearby touchscreen allows physical therapists to simulate various scenarios and track a patient’s progress.

Learning how to walk again after an injury like Cameron’s is intimidating. “When you fall and hit the ground, it hurts,” he says. The ZeroG simulates falls without letting the patient hit the ground. “I felt more confident because I knew that if I fell, I would be caught.”

The ZeroG also reduces injuries to employees. “Our therapists don’t run the risk of hurting themselves when they save a patient from a fall. Therapists can put their focus on the patient to get the best outcomes,” says Jake.

Cameron marvels at the progress he’s made since beginning therapy on the ZeroG. Before using the equipment, Tweedy was reaching 600 steps during a 45-minute therapy session. Using the ZeroG, he is hittin 1,500 steps.

But the number of steps is just one indicator of his progress. “The ZeroG allowed me to stand up and hold my daughter, Hazel, again. I can pick her up and put her in her highchair. I can walk around the kitchen. Last night I made steaks for dinner. It’s nothing shy of a miracle that I’ve gotten to where I am,” says Cameron. “St. Luke’s and the ZeroG changed my life.”

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