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Devices help stroke patients regain hand, arm functionality
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Devices help stroke patients regain hand, arm functionality

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SIOUX CITY -- SaeboFlex supports Bradley Collins' wrist, allowing him to extend his left thumb and fingers in order to grasp and release objects.

After a stroke, Collins had to learn how to walk and talk again, how to dress himself and how to reach for and pick up objects with his dominant hand. The functional orthosis designed for people with a neurological injury helps the Kingsley, Iowa, man with the latter.

The SaeboReach adaptation attaches to the SaeboFlex, giving him the ability to extend his elbow.

Mercy Medical Center occupational therapist Shelly Kitrell has been working with SaeboFlex for several months. She said brain cells that weren't affected by stroke can be trained to perform functions that the damaged brain cells once did. She said repetitive physical tasks help the brain tap into this ability.

SaeboFlex allows patients to immediately begin using their hand in therapy and at home. They can adjust the tension in the springs as their strength improves.

"If they have too much tightness or tone, you can put a more strong spring on there to pull the fingers up a little bit better. If they're kind of relaxed, you can put a lighter spring on there so that they can use more power of their flexors," Kitrell explained. "They can start rewiring or retraining the brain to be able to open and close the hand."

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Although Collins possesses flexor tone to close his hand, right now, Kitrell said he doesn't have any active ability to open his hand. Once patients can use their hand, she said they can start engaging their whole arm, which will increase their shoulder and elbow strength.

"The more you go without the use of one side, the more your brain says, 'I don't really have that arm. It doesn't work anymore,'" she said. "You have to fool the brain to rewire it so that you can get the function back again."

After mastering the SaeboFlex, Collins could progress to the SaeboGlove.

Contessa Siders, of Sioux City, is using the lightweight, silicone and Lycra glove with individual tensioners. She said the black and blue glove, which is less cumbersome than the SaeboFlex, allows her to pick up things and move them.

SaeboFlex/SaeboReach and SaeboGlove are covered by Medicare and most health insurances plans. The SaeboFlex/SaeboReach costs about $1,000, while the SaeboGlove is around $300.

Siders can wash dishes, sweep the floor and vacuum, but she said re-learning how to do those tasks didn't come easy after she suffered a stroke on Sept. 25, 2014.

"It took forever," she said. "I had no strength in my arm whatsoever."

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