The ability to walk is a function most people take for granted. As a young child, I often wondered why my sisters and friends walked so effortlessly. Although I was ambulatory, I fatigued easily, fell often, and struggled throughout my life.
I went to college and had a family and a career, but as the years went on, SMA chipped away at my mobility. I retired early after a severe knee injury which left me using a cane. Ten years later, another injury (a fractured hip and patella) made walking only possible with a walker.
My fear of falling and sustaining additional injuries was magnified, but SMA has taught me to fight. I fought through the sadness as I mourned the loss of abilities and the independence that went with it.
When Spinraza was approved, it gave me hope. I finally had help fighting against this disease. Armed with knowing that the progression of SMA might be kept at bay, I felt motivated. I started getting physical therapy to help the process along. After fracturing my hip, I realized I needed therapy that was specifically designed for a person with a neuromuscular disease.
I participated in an exercise study at Columbia University several years ago. It was there that I had the honor of meeting Jacqueline Montes, a physical therapist and neurologic clinical specialist with a doctorate in education. She’s also the associate professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. I reached out to her and mentioned my concerns about not being able to walk unaided. I mentioned that I was looking for a therapy that would help me walk without the fear of falling. I informed her that the therapy centers near me did not have walking assist lift slings or parallel bars that would provide a sense of security.
That’s when Dr. Montes provided me with the link to look into the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill. I found a location near me that had the anti-gravity treadmill and made an appointment.
The AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill has significantly changed physical therapy for me. I look forward to going and actually enjoy doing therapy. I feel safe and am motivated to do more. For the first time in a long time, I am walking without fear. After only two months, I’m up to walking for 15 minutes straight. I can’t remember when I walked that long without stopping to rest.
Another great thing about the treadmill is that, not only do I get to practice walking, but I can watch how I am walking on a monitor and correct any compensation movements I have — like swinging my foot forward instead of stepping heel to toe. After walking, I am also able to do some standing exercises like mini-squats, leg raises, and leg lifts.
My hope is that one day I will be able to walk unaided when not on the anti-gravity treadmill, but until then, I am strengthening my muscles and experiencing walking without fear.
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