Doctor brings robotic device to patients
Updated 12:44 pm, Monday, January 16, 2012
Since she suffered a stroke in March, Kathy Riordan's left arm has been paralyzed.
During a recent visit to Frederick Nahm, a Greenwich neurologist, Riordan, who lives in New Canaan, felt a jolt of surprise when, with a small movement of her biceps, she was able to bring her arm up to her chest.
Riordan, 57, had been fitted with a neuro-robotic arm brace that uses sensors to detect even the faintest muscle signals. In people with limited mobility, the device picks up those signals and allows them to move their arm further.
The device, called the mPower 1000, was developed by a Cambridge, Mass.-based company called Myomo, which stands for "my own movement."
Nahm began doing research on the device after a patient mentioned it and said he'd like to try it. Nahm approached the company and said he wanted to bring their invention to Connecticut. He is currently working with five patients who are using the brace.
"There is nothing like it, and it will be an explosive area of growth within the next decade," Nahm said. "It's probably the most exciting development right now in rehab."
Riordan tested the brace at Nahm's Lake Avenue office recently, and later received a new one to take home. She said using the device felt like someone was moving her arm along with her.
"It feels more like an aid," she said. "I think it's cool."
"That right there is incredible," said Riordan's husband, Bob, as she moved her arm up and down. "She was at one point told she probably wouldn't walk again. She's walking now. The left arm is the last vestige of the brain damage."
Riordan said she hopes to recover enough movement to eventually drive again, play golf, and cook dinner.
The mPower 1000 is different than other devices that use electrical stimulation to move the muscles, Nahm said. When a person moves their own muscles, it helps retrain the brain.
"This is actually having her contract the muscles and move her arm on her own, which is better neurologically," said Amy Boos, an occupational therapist who works as a clinical support specialist for Myomo.
People who have arm paralysis or weakness after a stroke or head injury, or due to a neuromuscular disease such as multiple sclerosis, can benefit from the device, Nahm said. The current technology works only with the biceps and triceps. Myomo is developing a device that will work with the full arm, including the hand.
At $7,500, the mPower 1000 is pricey, but Nahm said he is working with his patients' insurance companies to cover it.
The device has a Greenwich connection, too. The wife of Myomo's chief executive officer, Paul Gudonis, grew up in Riverside, and the couple married here.
"We're really pleased to be working with Dr. Nahm to bring this technology to the area," Gudonis said.
There are currently about 250 patients using the device in a clinical setting -- such as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic -- or at home, said Gudonis, who worked in the robotics field before joining Myomo. Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford also uses the device.
"What's terrific about Myomo is the social value and the impact it has on people's lives," Gudonis said. "For the first time, we're able to bring a really unique patented technology to the market."
Nahm recently founded a company called Domus Health and Wellness to help people get cutting-edge medical devices such as the mPower 1000. The program is the first of its kind in the community, Nahm said.
"You see the smile on their face, then you know it works," Nahm said. "It's technology in action."
Nahm will be screening patients who may benefit from the device on Jan. 23. Those who are interested can call his office at 203-661-9383 to schedule an appointment.