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'Navigaitor' Helps Patients Walk Again

Recently Patented Rehabilitation Device Enhances Freedom of Motion

NEW YORK, June 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Severe stroke victims and other acutely ill rehabilitation patients are learning to correct their unsteady and unsafe gait sooner and without the fear of falling by using a new therapeutic device that allows them more freedom of motion to walk again.

"The device, called Navigaitor, helps patients who are unstable or too weak to walk without fear of falls and injury and without depending on several physical therapists for support," said inventor Avital Fast, MD, Chairman of Rehabilitation Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

"The computer-driven device holds up the patient with a standard harness attached via a cable to a sensor on a sturdy, overhead frame made of steel beams. It physically supports, responds to and follows the patient as he walks safely in all directions -- forwards, backwards, sideways and up and down inclines. Other rehabilitation devices do not provide this degree of freedom of motion," Dr. Fast said.

"Unlike traditional parallel bars and treadmills, the patients' hands are free so it gives them a feeling of independence and confidence and the ability to recover more quickly. It differs from other harness systems by its extreme range of motion," said Dr. Fast.

The Navigaitor has helped a severe stroke patient with no strength in her left arm and leg to walk up an incline in five sessions, versus weeks. It has helped an elderly man with advanced idiopathic myositis, a musculature disease, to lift his legs in just a few sessions. It is being used to help patients with Parkinson's disease and Guillain-Barre syndrome. The Navigaitor can adapt to the needs of the individual patient and function under full weight-bearing and partial weight-bearing conditions.

"Giving patients freedom of motion to walk safely suspended on the harness and to change direction at will, as in a real life, rather than have their movements restricted to a treadmill or track, is important in speeding the recovery process," said Dr. Fast. "We now know that the brain is plastic and that repetitive movements play a role in helping the brain develop nerve ending junctions that bypass the areas of the brain damaged by a stroke," he added. "The sooner we begin training the muscles and the brain to interact in real-life situations, the sooner the brain's circuitry rearranges and the healing process can begin."

A 200-square-foot frame of steel beams defines the boundaries of the therapeutic space. The frame's dimensions can be tailored to different room sizes in hospitals, nursing homes and free standing rehabilitation centers. The harness hangs from a mobile ceiling beam that crosses the width of the therapeutic space. As the patient moves, the harness cable pushes against a tilt mechanism that feeds information to a computer. The computer directs the mobile beam and harness to move with the patient inside the therapeutic space.

The inspiration for the Navigaitor came seven years ago when, as a consultant, Dr. Fast saw two patients who had fallen and injured themselves severely during therapy sessions at other hospitals. It has been successfully used by a dozen patients in the past few weeks and is evolving daily. Along with the engineers from the University of Hartford who helped build the device, Dr. Fast is customizing the Navigaitor for Parkinson's disease patients who cannot initiate their stride. The system will be programmed to give them a slight boost to start walking.

There are also plans underway to teach patients how to walk over ice and on sand and to practice therapeutic walking in a real life environment, such as a living room with couches and a TV.

In the months ahead, Dr. Fast will collect clinical data and submit the results for publication. Dr. Fast shares a patent on the device with Montefiore, University of Hartford and Dr. Devdas Shetty of University of Hartford.

Montefiore Medical Center encompasses 125 years of outstanding patient care, innovative medical "firsts," pioneering clinical research, dedicated community service and ground-breaking social activism. A full-service, integrated delivery system caring for patients in the New York metropolitan region and beyond, Montefiore is a 1,491-bed medical center that includes: four hospitals -- the Henry and Lucy Moses Division, the Jack D. Weiler Division, the North Division and The Children's Hospital at Montefiore; a large home healthcare agency; the largest school health program in the U.S.; a 25-site medical group practice integrated throughout the Bronx and Westchester; and, a care management organization providing services to 179,000 health plan members.

In 2008, The Children's Hospital at Montefiore was ranked as one of "America's Best Children's Hospitals" in US News & World Report's prestigious annual listing. The Leapfrog Group lists Montefiore among the top one percent of all U.S. hospitals based on its strategic investments in sophisticated and integrated healthcare technology.

Montefiore is committed to meeting the healthcare needs of the future through medical education and manages one of the largest residency programs in the country. Montefiore is The University Hospital and Academic Medical Center for Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has an affiliation with New York Medical College for residency programs at the North Division.

Distinguished centers of excellence at Montefiore include cardiology and cardiac surgery, cancer care, tissue and organ transplantation, children's health, women's health, surgery and the surgical subspecialties. Montefiore is a national leader in the research and treatment of diabetes, headaches, obesity, cough and sleep disorders, geriatrics and geriatric psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery, adolescent and family medicine, HIV/AIDS and social and environmental medicine, among many other specialties. For more information, please visit or

SOURCE Montefiore Medical Center
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