By Eugenio Torrens
Phillip Darrow used to have a tough time getting around.
The 65-year-old Arbor Oaks resident has neuropathy in his ankles, which means the nerves to his knees and ankles are deteriorating. An on-and-off regiment of steroid infusions for the past four years wasn’t enough.
Then a few weeks ago, Darrow started using some new equipment and gradually, he has noticed an improvement.
That equipment is available at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa or at USF. But now, it is also closer than ever to home.
Physical therapist Robert Dragan operates out of an office by the Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. He has been in the city since 1995 and established Rehab Point in 1999.
“I owe something to the community,” Dragan said.
He has helped countless patients with stiff bones, muscle aches and worse. Now he may be able to offer patients an aide into the future — minimizing future risks.
That’s thanks to the Biodex Balance SD and the Gait Trainer machines housed in his facility.
Although the names may sound intimidating, the Biodex Balance SD is a simple-looking machine, upon which the patient stands and engages in a series of games that test motor coordination.
WThe Gait Trainer looks like any state-of-the-art treadmill, but it is noticeably low and flat to the ground, and it tracks the walking patterns of the patients in an attempt to maximize the body’s most efficient manner of stride.
Roughly two weeks into using Dragan’s new equipment, Darrow noticed a difference.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” Darrow said about first stepping on the Biodex Balance SD. “My stability has gotten better. My balance has gotten better also. It takes your mind off what you’re doing.”
The mental aspect is part of the reason Dragan said the Biodex Balance SD and Gait Trainer are so effective.
“It actually requires much more thinking,” Dragan said. “You are involved. It’s not the repeating exercises. A lot of patients come in here, they want me to give them, you know ‘Just give me exercises at home, and I’m going to do it. I’m just going to repeat this 15-20 repetitions, and I’ll be fine.’ No, you will be not fine.”
It has been so productive that Darrow has recommended it to different people in addition to posting brochures about Rehab Point at his mobile home park.
As for the Gait Trainer, Darrow said he’s still getting used to it, but that it too, is helping.
“It’s showing me how to move my hips and get the gait in the right perspective,” Darrow said.
Before the Gait Trainer, Darrow used to exercise his ankles just by walking around. It was all he could really do. He wished he had been privy to the technology weeks ago.
One of the vital aspects of Dragan’s new machines is their intuition — they are not only meant to illustrate weaknesses in balance or walking strides, but also to improve physical habits.
After Darrow saw his results on the Gait Trainer, he has tried adapting the walking habits the trainer suggested to his habitual walking routine.
Dragan said his new equipment could eventually reduce health care cost by improving overall safety for senior citizens.
“We would like to save this money for Medicare later on,” Dragan said. “If we can decrease the cost of the health care by decreasing the risk and all these costs of complications, we will be much better.”
Dragan said if people learn their limitations, they can learn to prevent them as well as how to deal and improve upon them.
“The more you’re afraid to fall, the faster you fall,” Dragan said. “Unfortunately, that’s how it works.”
Although this experiment is still in its infancy, Dragan hasn’t been shortsighted. He doesn’t plan to limit the abilities of this technology to seniors only. He predicts it could be particularly beneficial to high school athletes as well.
“Unfortunately, there is always somebody who gets injured,” Dragan said.
He noted football, volleyball, soccer and track and field athletes as ones who could get the most out of this.
Dragan hopes by working with coaches that he can bring the program to Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools.
Rehab Point Inc. is located at 38026 Medical Center Ave. in Zephyrhills. For more information, visit www.rehabpoint.com or call (813) 779-8829.