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Healing hand

saeboflex

This assemblage of cables, springs and chains is a SaeboFlex device used in stroke rehabilitation. Photo by Rob Hill

Having a stroke in 2008 was a life-altering moment for Bruce Beard. His work restocking shelves at Lowe’s came to an abrupt end when he lost much of his ability to move the left side of his body. His left arm, when it moved at all, sometimes moved involuntarily. “It had a mind of its own,” Beard says. “We started calling it Kramer,” referring to the unpredictable character on Seinfeld.

Now Giulianne Krug, MA ’03, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the School of Health Professions, is the only therapist within a hundred miles using a promising new therapeutic device called SaeboFlex, which may help speed recovery from strokes.

The device straps to the hand and forearm and uses springs to help patients open their hands, which oftentimes are clasped shut after a stroke. Without the Saebo, Beard is unable to pick up a 4-inch-diameter ball. But using the device, he makes steady progress grabbing balls and setting them in a crate.

The seemingly simple act of opening the hand opens several channels for healing, Krug says. For starters, the hand works more normally and allows patients to practice manual skills 90 minutes or more a day. “The more repetitions they perform, the more readily the brain will create new pathways, and the more function they will recover,” Krug says.

But the hand is just part of the picture. By using the digits, patients also stimulate the elbow, shoulder and even legs as they move about. Krug says Saebo may become a standard tool in stroke rehab, as data accumulate on its effectiveness. “This is the most exciting thing in stroke rehabilitation to come along in a long time,” she says.