Mark Landers has one goal in mind this year — to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

PT_news-01A new physical therapy technology is bringing him closer to achieving that goal. Dubbed Safe Gait, the device features a ceiling-mounted rail and harness system that allows patients full movement when relearning how to walk and increasing mobility.

Landers’ life changed forever in March 2010 when what he thought was a heart attack turned out to be an aortic dissection. Two weeks later, his right leg and part of his right hip were amputated. A significant amount of muscle had to be removed from his left leg. Landers uses a prosthetic leg.

“It’s comfortable,” Landers said of the Safe Gait technology, which uses state of the art patient management software that allows physical therapists to better customize care. “When they have me walking without any crutches I feel safe, like I’m not going to fall. It made me more willing to try things I wouldn’t normally try like taking a first step.”

Mark Landers is using Safe Gait as part of his physical therapy after having his right leg amputated.

J.J. Mowder-Tinney, PT, helps Mark Landers work on walking using Safe Gait as part of his physical therapy after having his right leg amputated. (Photo courtesy J.J. Mowder-Tinney)

Eliminating fear of falling is a major benefit of Safe Gait, said J.J. Mowder-Tinney, PhD, PT, NCS, CSRS, an associate professor for Nazareth College’s physical therapy program in Rochester, N.Y. An overhead track system provides patients full range of motion, enabling them to fall safely.

“If you drop quickly, it will protect you from falling,” Mowder-Tinney said. “You can lie down and sit back up no matter what the activity.”

Research has shown holding a patient in place and trying to get him or her to walk perfectly can slow progress, Mowder-Tinney said. Without free movement, the body doesn’t have an opportunity to make mistakes, which are key to helping the brain relearn, she said.

“You have to not let [patients] fall to the ground, but you need to let them lose their balance and go far enough to where the brain can say, ‘I need to correct that,’” Mowder-Tinney said. “That’s the big thing about making people look too perfect — the brain never has the chance to make that kind of correction on its own.”

Safe Gait was created at Gorbel Inc., a Fishers, N.Y.-based crane company that specializes in providing overhead track systems and cranes for lifting heavy equipment. The idea of using that same technology for lifting people began in 2013 with a former Gorbel employee whose daughter was undergoing physical therapy after a car crash. Seeing her daughter try to walk with the help of up to four physical therapists, including one to guard against falls, inspired the employee to inquire whether it was possible for Gorbel to make a device to simplify the process for both patients and therapists with better results. The company soon began consulting with local physical therapists, including Mowder-Tinney, and installed Safe-Gate at Nazareth College’s Physical Therapy and Neuromuscular Clinic, said Betty Dolce, general manager of Gorbel Medical.

“It really makes a lot of sense,” Dolce said. “Being able to lift heavy things, unload them and move them with a lot of dexterity was something we already did.”

Nazareth College’s physical therapy clinic treats individuals who have exhausted their health benefits or do not have health insurance, Mowder-Tinney said. Landers, whose insurance stopped covering his therapy after six months, was able to take advantage of Nazareth’s services. He was one of the first patients to try the Safe Gait system, which also was recently installed at Ohio State University’s outpatient clinic in Columbus. In addition to walking his daughter down the aisle in August, Landers also wants to dance with her at the wedding. Physical therapy students at Nazareth, where he receives therapy once a week, are helping him pick out songs.

“I’ll get there,” said Landers, who was an avid hiker, golfer and outdoorsman before his aortic dissection. “You’ve got to have the drive, but Safe Gait is helping me to walk safely, and it’s helping the PTs watch and pay attention to how I’m walking.”

Geneva Slupski is a freelance writer.