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New Technology Helps Man with MS 

click to enlarge Brad Fowler straps the Bioness cuffs directly below his knees to help him walk. - MARK A. LEE
  • Brad Fowler straps the Bioness cuffs directly below his knees to help him walk.
  • Mark A. Lee
"I'm ready to go back to work. I don't want disability. I'm 39 years old. Who wants to be on disability?" - Brad Fowler.

A graduate of Purdue University and father of two, Brad Fowler was a successful engineer for Chrysler before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). If human nerves were electric wires, imagine the insulation around those wires deteriorating and leaving the wires exposed - that's essentially what happens to patients with MS.

Although he had some symptoms as a younger man, it wasn't until Fowler had a factory job that he really became concerned. Heat sensitivity is common in people with multiple sclerosis, and working in an overheated plant, it was one of the first symptoms Fowler noticed. At first he didn't know what it was - he just thought, "Man, you're a wimp!" - so he "manned up" and dealt with it. It wasn't until his wife died that he was officially diagnosed. His doctor told him, "The good news is, you don't have Parkinson's. The bad news is you have MS." Fowler's MS has become progressively worse since then; and there was little to no hope that his symptoms would improve... until now.

click to enlarge A gait sensor is attached to the side of his shoe.  It sends signals to the cuff below his knee as to whether his heels are on the ground, or in mid stride. - MARK A. LEE
  • A gait sensor is attached to the side of his shoe. It sends signals to the cuff below his knee as to whether his heels are on the ground, or in mid stride.
  • Mark A. Lee

Fowler is a candidate for a relatively new technology. It was recommended to him by his physical therapist, Jan George. George used to work in the Rehab Institute in Chicago, and was trained on something called the Bioness device in 2007. Bioness is a leg cuff that is worn directly below the knee coupled with a gait sensor that attaches to one's shoe. The sensor lets the leg cuff know if a patient's heel is on the ground or in the air; and a hand held remote that lets one control the amount of stimulation your leg muscles receive.

Bioness stimulates the muscles electronically to help create muscle memory as well as timing and sequence memory. In other words, it "re-trains" the body to do things like walk that most folks take for granted. According to George, "Your body makes adjustments based on the stimulation it receives. Brad used to drag his foot a lot. So when he gets the electrical stimulation, it helps him lift his foot up, so he doesn't have to compensate in his body. When he gets better control of his foot, his foot can make adjustments in space to help him balance better."

click to enlarge These are just a few of the medications Fowler needs to take on a daily basis to help keep his MS under control. - MARK A. LEE
  • These are just a few of the medications Fowler needs to take on a daily basis to help keep his MS under control.
  • Mark A. Lee
Right now, Fowler is in a trial period. At the recommendation of his physical therapist and doctor, he was able to pay $750 for the first month to get his body used to wearing the device and make sure it is going to work for him. He started out wearing the cuffs for 20 minutes a day, and by the end of the month he is should be able to wear them for an entire day and recharge them while he sleeps. Provided the cuffs work the way they are supposed to (and so far they have), Fowler will then be given the option of purchasing them at the end of the month. The cost? $12,000

Back when Fowler was working as an engineer, that price tag would not have been a problem. Now that he's on disability, and the cost of Bioness is not covered by insurance, it's a huge problem. Lucky for Fowler, his friends at Anytime Fitness have stepped up to try and give him a helping hand.

Fowler works out at the Anytime Fitness at Avalon Crossing on a daily basis. "I have been working out regularly because I was trying to get my dropped foot to take care of itself, and it hasn't." When general manager Lantz Kulp first heard about Bioness, and saw for himself how much it was helping Fowler, he jumped at the chance to help him raise some much needed funds so that Fowler could afford to buy the Bioness device. Kulp is aware Fowler used to be a successful engineer, "and to have that successful career all of a sudden be taken away, and dealing with what he has to deal with on a regular basis... It's something we want to do for him. He's like family here."
click to enlarge Physical Therapist Jan George, and Fowler's mother, keep an eye on him as he practices walking with his Bioness device.  Even though MS is not hereditary, his mother was diagnosed with MS three years after Fowler was. - MARK A. LEE
  • Physical Therapist Jan George, and Fowler's mother, keep an eye on him as he practices walking with his Bioness device. Even though MS is not hereditary, his mother was diagnosed with MS three years after Fowler was.
  • Mark A. Lee

"If we can do this", said Kulp, "it would be something that can change his life."

Fowler's balance - or lack thereof - has been a huge detriment to him when applying for a job. The device may greatly improve his quality of life. With less than a week to go, Anytime Fitness is a long way from reaching their goal of $12,000. But Fowler is holding onto hope that the money will come from somewhere. "Now I'm left to where I can't work, and I hate it. As a man, we were taught to work, and to make something of our life... and I can't do that any more." Bioness gives Fowler the inspiration, and the muscle memory, he needs to turn his life back around, and to become a productive member of society once again.

Forever the optimist, Kulp says "Whatever we donate to Brad, if we have any left over, we're donating it to the MS Foundation".

Donations, and more info, can be found here. http://www.gofundme.com/8347ok Bioness was created for people with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. It must be approved by your doctor for you to be a candidate.

click to enlarge Brad Fowler poses with general manager Lantz Kulp at Anytime Fitness.  The staff and patrons of Anytime Fitness are trying to help Fowler raise the money needed for Bioness technology to help him walk. - MARK A. LEE
  • Brad Fowler poses with general manager Lantz Kulp at Anytime Fitness. The staff and patrons of Anytime Fitness are trying to help Fowler raise the money needed for Bioness technology to help him walk.
  • Mark A. Lee
click to enlarge George jokes that she is drawing "smiley faces" where his cuffs are supposed to be.  Fowler replies, "Don't do that!  How am I supposed to pick up hot chicks with those on my knees?" - MARK A. LEE
  • George jokes that she is drawing "smiley faces" where his cuffs are supposed to be. Fowler replies, "Don't do that! How am I supposed to pick up hot chicks with those on my knees?"
  • Mark A. Lee

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