New hand rehab system may help re-train muscles


By Susan Christensen
Special to the Advocate

When a spinal cord injury left Nicole Marquez of Madison with limited hand function, her mother Susan Marquez began helping the 26-year-old get dressed each day.

A year later, Nicole is more than ready to button, zip and primp all by her herself. “I love my mom, but we don’t have the same vision as far as make-up,” Nicole said. “I’m so stubborn I want to do things by myself.”

Nicole hopes such independence will soon be possible with the help of the Bioness Hand Rehabilitation System. The new device uses gentle electrical pulses to stimulate and re-train the muscles that move the hand and wrist.

On Sept. 22, Methodist Outpatient Rehab in Flowood will offer free screenings by appointment for those who believe they might benefit from the device. Typical candidates include people who have trouble using their hand or arm due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, some types of spinal cord injury or other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease.

Methodist began offering the system in June, and Nicole was first in line for the therapy.

“My mom saw it on a Good Morning America segment on new medical gadgets and gizmos,” Nicole said. “She had the Bioness website up when she woke me up that morning. The website showed a girl who had a serious spinal cord injury. When they zoomed in on her brushing her horse, you had no idea there was something wrong with her hands. I got really excited about the possibilities for myself.”

Methodist Rehab occupational therapist Suzanne Colbert said the system is designed to improve movement, range of motion and blood circulation. And it also may reduce muscle spasms and help prevent contractures and atrophy.

Therapists at Methodist Rehab attended training sessions to learn how to custom-fit the splint-like device, adjust the electrical stimulation and devise exercise regimens for each patient.

“Here at rehab, we work on grasping and releasing objects,” Colbert said. “At home she is supposed to wear it an hour and a half each day. You get better results when you do an activity with it rather than letting the device just open and close your hand.”

Three months into Bioness training, Nicole says she is regaining many of the abilities she once took for granted. “It’s telling my nerves: ‘Remember what you are supposed to do.’ You can definitely feel the results when you don’t do your exercises. It’s like back-tracking.”

During a recent session, Nicole showed off her new abilities by picking up small washers and sliding them onto metal pegs. “Before, I had no grip,” she said. “I had to get others to put my earphones in my ears because I had no pinch.”

Nicole delights in her solo accomplishments so far, including unscrewing shampoo bottles, brushing her teeth, putting on earrings and “picking my own boogers,” she joked. And she looks forward to more achievements to come.

‘I’m getting a better and better grip because of the work I’m willing to put into it,” she said. “I know I’ll be able to get results because my therapists want it as much as I do.”

Free screenings for the Bioness Hand Rehabilitation System and the Bioness Foot Drop System are available by appointment from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sept. 22 at Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation in Flowood. For information or to schedule an appointment, call 601-936-8889.