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Shepherd Center Seeks to Add New Therapeutic Equipment to Advance Patient Care

A hallmark of Shepherd Center’s rehabilitation care has been staying abreast of advances in therapeutic equipment.

But it’s not enough to keep up with what’s current – Shepherd also makes every effort to provide patients with new technologies that support their goals for recovery and independence.

Three such innovative technologies are the centerpiece of a $400,000 fundraising initiative that started this past fall. When complete, the campaign will fund the purchase of new equipment that has been tested and evaluated by patients and staff. It will enable Shepherd patients to:

  • use a non-robotic device to participate in upper-limb therapy while interacting with real-life activities on a computer;
  • strengthen gait, balance and endurance by walking overground along a defined path while supported by a harness attached to an overhead rail system; and
  •  improve cardiovascular health and lower-limb muscle strength and activity while fully supported in more upright positions earlier in the recovery process.

Here’s more on each of the three technologies Shepherd hopes to implement:

Therapy meets the computer age. Hocoma’s Armeo®Spring is an arm exoskeleton that marries a therapy device to computer-simulated, virtual reality environment. After placing an arm in a support system with a handgrip, the user ventures beyond repetitive back-and-forth motions to practice everyday tasks, such as putting fruit into a basket or eggs into a frying pan. The machine also offers motion-sensor video games, making therapy potentially more engaging to people of all ages. 

“The patient has to generate the movement, and the arm is controlling what is going on in the computer,” explains Kathy Farris, therapy manager for Shepherd’s Acquired Brain Injury Unit. “It simulates real-life activities and gives the patient visual feedback and immediate task satisfaction.”

This machine is good for all levels of function, though patients must have at least some motor strength. While the hospital has several ambulatory gait devices that help with walking, the Armeo®Spring would be one of the first pieces of equipment that targets upper extremities in this capacity. Its software also tracks the progress of each patient to document functional improvements, as well as strength and efficiency of movement using the device over time.

Exploring Shepherd, literally. Patients who practice walking at Shepherd do so inside a single, defined space – and with the aid of several therapists or a robotic gait trainer. But ZeroG™,a new piece of equipment from Bioness, would allow patients to navigate a defined path through a Shepherd therapy gym while supported by a harness connected to a ceiling-mounted trolley system. The system would provide intensive gait training and practice using everyday skills associated with walking. 

“This device gives therapists a better look at the patient’s quality of movement and provides practice walking overground naturally,” Farris says. “With the systems we have in place now, many therapists are needed to support the patient, and they cannot move as freely to challenge things such as balance or to react to obstacles in our path.”

An earlier start, a steadier pace. Hocoma’s Erigo® is an automated, adjustable “tilt table” that provides a head start for non-ambulatory patients who aren’t ready to fully participate in rehabilitation therapy. These patients, who may be in lower-level states of consciousness or face long-term immobilization, would use Erigo® to build strength and stamina slowly.

The concept is simple: Patients are strapped to the table and move pedals that simulate stepping, even though they’re not yet fully upright. Over time, therapists adjust the tilt of the table to a level that is safe, but challenges patient progress. Strength and stamina grow at a gradual pace without the safety risk for medically fragile patients. 

All three technologies would enable Shepherd to increase the intensity of its patient care. “They would also free up therapists to have more quality time with patients,” Farris says.

Moreover, the equipment purchase has been thoroughly researched, explains Bonnie Hardage, major gifts director in the Shepherd Center Foundation. “We’re putting a lot of thought into this,” she says. “We’ve researched all of the technology, involved clinicians and patients, and evaluated potential benefits from start to finish. All we need is for the community to respond.”

To make a donation to this initiative, call 404-367-1238 or visit

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.