Condition: Multiple SclerosisSolution: The WalkAide® System
Debbie Gomez-Trost, 47, is lucky enough to be raising three charming triplets in their early teens, but she does have to shuttle them to a few after-school activities around their hometown of Highland, Illinois.During a typical week, her son Cole participates in yearbook, basketball, student council, Model UN, and band.Jacob does speech team, Scholars’ Bowl, Model UN, and book club. Mackenzie, the poised young woman among the three, does math team, softball, and volleyball, and competes on two basketball teams. And all three children are altar servers for their church. Just listing off all of the activities makes Gomez-Trost pause to catch her breath. “When my husband and I get together, it’s like a Department of Defense mapping meeting,” she says, pointing out that they wouldn’t be anywhere without the family’s trusty, high-mileage conversion van. The busy mom calls it the “fridge” because it’s big, square, and there is always someone standing there with the door open.“Plus, if you look carefully, there are sometimes leftovers inside,” she quips.It helps to have a sense of humor. It also helps to have a few carefully chosen tools, such as the WalkAide® system, which was developed by Hanger Clinic and introduced in 2006.
Gomez-Trost has multiple sclerosis, which causes a condition in her right foot commonly called foot drop—the inability to flex the ankle or lift the foot properly when walking. To get around, Gomez-Trost counts on the WalkAide, which is a small battery powered unit that straps to her leg.When it senses that she is about to take a step, it automatically sends a mild electrical signal to the peroneal nerve, which activates the muscles to raise the foot and help her walk. The device is noninvasive and operates for a month on one AA battery. Gomez-Trost, a microbiologist by training, first experienced the symptoms of MS eight years ago, and says the disease forced her family to reassess its priorities. “Having MS is definitely life changing,” she says. “I went to college, got my degree, got a job. Then we built our dream house. Things were golden for about eight months, until one particular day, my life took a twist.”Initially, to help her walk, Gomez- Trost wore a traditional ankle-foot orthosis that forced her to lift her entire leg with each step, resulting in an awkward gait. “I had to peg leg it,” she says, “which took a lot of physical energy.” Fatigue is a major symptom with MS, and the new walking method limited her ability to participate in family activities. The orthosis had other drawbacks: because it slipped on hard surfaces, she had to wear shoes at all times, even to get a glass of water in her kitchen.In 2006, after struggling with the conventional orthosis for a year and a half, Gomez-Trost and her husband, Bob, found out about the WalkAide. They hoped it would combat some of her fatigue. But it would also cost $5,000 out of pocket because their insurance company, like most insurers, saw it as new and unconventional. After trying the device out at the Hanger Clinic office,Gomez-Trost liked it right away, and the couple decided to take the risk. “It was a big purchase, don’t get me wrong,” she says. “We would have liked a big-screen TV instead. But I wanted my life back.”The device turned out to be the right fit for her. “The WalkAide is awesome,” says Gomez-Trost. “I wouldn’t be in the state of mind I’m in and able to function without it. For the fatigue and mobility, the WalkAide has helped a lot.” As a side benefit, she says, she can walk around thehouse—and on the beach while on vacation—completely barefoot. Gomez-Trost still has good days and bad days, which is typical of MS patients. There are times, for instance, when everything falls apart: sometimes she has to stick to bed while her husband pulls a double shift at work, and the kids help out as best they can. But she always bounces back and gets everyone laughing again. “Life throws you these curveballs, but it’s been a unique blessing in many ways. The MS prompted me to spend more time with my family—in a two-story home that we love,” she says, and then pauses with a devilish grin. “Of course, if God had only given me a little warning, I probably would have built a ranch.”