Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

June 14, 2014

Rehabilitation: New system helps people do the little things

TRAVERSE CITY — It's a glove Iron Man would love.

Fingers are spring-loaded to flex; clever mechanics allow for grabbing and holding. It has no repulsor beam blaster, true. But those who have suffered a stroke aren't seeking superpowers; they want to reclaim simple skills like buttoning a shirt or lifting a glass of water.

Squeeze the ball that was Seth Carruth's goal. A stroke crippled the Traverse City business owner's left arm two years ago when he was 46, leaving his hand and wrist clenched "like Bob Dole holding a pen." Squeezing is an intricate act of fingers, wrist and elbow. Carruth remembers the banner day that his SaeboFlex glove helped his thumb and pinkie work in concert, allowing him to pick up a ball. This turned into raising a glass to his lips.

"I couldn't grip the balls or coordinate a squeeze," Carruth said. "Then, one day, I started to fly through it."

"People see them and get excited," said Joe Leppek of the upper extremity treatment tools now housed at Munson Medical Center's Rehabilitation Services. Munson's occupational therapy coordinator calls the Saebo system "appealing on a lot of levels."

Space Age design, bright colors and "games" are hallmarks of the system, recently purchased by a $20,000 Munson Healthcare Regional Foundation grant. It includes several mechanical hands, the SaeboReach, an elbow extender, the SaeboMas, a tabletop or standing arm assist, plus other tools. The company is based in North Carolina, and one of its founders, occupational therapist Henry Hoffman, lives in Traverse City.

Hoffman personally fit Carruth to his SaeboFlex, and told him that it was going to be a "long road to recovery," Carruth said. He was right, Carruth said, who later added the SaeboMas to increase his range of motion.

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