The Alter G
About 2 ½ years ago, I experienced one of the lowest moments in my life. Jian had been home for a couple of years at that time, and we had been working so hard on her therapy and trying to help her achieve her goal of walking. We kept hitting roadblocks everywhere we turned, so I made an appointment with a Rehab Medicine doctor, hoping she may have a different opinion. That was the day that she pulled me into a private room with a computer monitor to look at Jian’s nerve conduction study with me. She explained that when I received the printed results, there was a page that had been left off. When she scanned to the right on the computer, we could see the complete results. “Do you see these plus signs here? That means that not only are her muscles not firing, but they are actually continuing to worsen.” She went on to tell me that I was a good mom and that I had tried everything I could and that Jian would still live a good life. I got in the car and explained to my weary and hopeful girl that we had good news! We didn’t have to go back to see that doctor anymore!
I kept a brave face until I got her home and settled. Then I went into my closet and closed the door and fell down on my face sobbing. All of the momentum that we had built up until that moment had suddenly been deflated. I had experienced a fair share of trauma earlier in my life, but this moment ranked right up there with one of the most hopeless. Thankfully I got still and quiet the next morning in prayer, and it dawned on me what the plan needed to be going forward, and you know the rest of the story.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Up until that point, Jian had never wanted me to come to her school for any reason. However, because Faith invited me to “Parents in PE Day,” Jian agreed to let me come with her class too. As we were about to leave, I heard someone yelling for “Stacie” behind me. I turned around, and it was one of Jian’s sweet friends and her mom, Mary (actually speaking to someone else named Stacey.) Mary and I struck up a conversation and discovered that we were both home health occupational therapists. We continued chatting as we walked to the car together. I thought I remembered that her husband was a therapist also and asked her about that. She told me that he worked at Drayer Physical Therapy.
I made a note of this to bring back up later. Earlier that week I was driving to a patient’s house listening to the radio. A commercial came on advertising an anti-gravity treadmill right here in Birmingham. The commercial explained that it was designed for people who may have an injury, surgery or arthritis and would allow them to rehabilitate more pain-free by eliminating part of their body weight. After some research, I learned that the Alter G treadmill was created using technology developed by NASA. I thought this sounded like something that would be great for Jian and planned to call and make an appointment.
By the end of our conversation, Mary brought up the idea to me about Jian trying the AlterG before I could circle back around to it. She said that her husband Jeff was actually the Rehab Director at Drayer and would be happy to help if this was a good fit for Jian. At that time, I did not know her husband, and I warned her that we did not want to work with any medical providers who were closed-minded. I told her that I know that Jian’s progress really can’t be explained medically, and we need people who believe that progress is possible anyway. I think she probably felt pretty sure that we had the right guy.
Pretty soon after that, I took Jian in for a consult. During the evaluation, Jeff pointed out that the muscles in Jian’s lower leg were actually firing. I am ashamed to admit that this was still one goal that I wasn’t sure would be possible. I have been hyper-focused on Jian’s upper leg and quads, and figured that worst case scenario, we could just have a below-the-knee brace if the calf muscles didn’t innervate. He was excited to encourage me to try some different exercises with her at home to continue facilitating the lower leg.
(Jian fully activating her left quads in this pic)
When I got home that day, I went directly to my closet, closed the door, hit my knees and sobbed. Only this time it was a cry full of hope and thanksgiving. Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time…”
With the Alter G, a special pair of pants is required that suction around the patient’s legs. The machine was not designed for pediatric patients, so all of the pants were huge on Jian’s body. Also, there is an 85 pound minimum weight requirement to activate the machine, and Jian weighs far less than that. With my CrossFit background and Jeff’s experience in rehabbing firefighters, we both immediately thought of putting a weighted vest on Jian. He consulted the sales rep to make sure there were no safety hazards, and we proceeded. In order to fit the pants to Jian’s legs, he used coban and athletic tape.
The first day she tried the AlterG, I felt like everyone in the room was holding their breath. Then we heard the roar of the machine activating and watched with excitement. Jian has been training once per week there for the past couple of months. She can now stand on her left leg with her right leg off the ground and support 40% of her body weight!!!
We are so thankful for Mr. Jeff and Drayer. They are exactly who we need during this phase of our journey. He is full of faith and has a servant’s heart. As his wife said to me when we were leaving the parking lot of the school that day, “I somehow feel that us having this conversation was not a coincidence.”
I somehow feel the same.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8