Please Note: These ArmeoSpring therapy session photos were taken before the COVID-19 outbreak.
It takes concentration, fine muscle control and determination as 9-year-old Luke Olson from Lakeville, MN works on the ArmeoSpring machine during his occupational therapy session at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.
Luke proclaims the therapy session is “fun” while his Gillette occupational therapist, Emily Lockman, says the ArmeoSpring is a “game changer.”
Gillette is one of the only pediatric health care centers to have an ArmeoSpring machine. It’s a computer-enhanced activity specifically designed for kids who are regaining movement in the arm or hand. The Armeo (Are-MAY-oh) Spring uses sensors and algorithms customized for each patient’s ability and it provides support and movement as a patient moves their affected hands and arms. This robotic exoskeleton is especially useful to assist patients who are building strength as the result of trauma, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular conditions or stroke.
A life changed in an instant
Luke has come a long way from the serious injuries he sustained in May of 2012. That warm spring night the Olson’s cracked open a window to let in the breeze while they watched Luke’s favorite television show, Wheel of Fortune. Luke was 16 months old then and in a split second he fell through a screened window. He dropped two stories, landing on a small patch of concrete—the only patch in the family’s grassy back yard. Luke was airlifted to Gillette’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center which is operated in partnership with Regions Hospital.
Luke’s parents, Sarah and Paul Olson, soon learned their son suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Gillette pediatric neurosurgeon, Patrick Graupman, MD, performed life-saving surgery to alleviate the pressure on Luke’s skull. Sarah remembers how Graupman and the entire Gillette team helped Luke to recover from the accident.
“Words cannot describe the appreciation we have for the doctors and nurses at Gillette who saved our son’s life,” Sarah says.
A good recovery and gaining strength
Luke spent two weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and received intensive rehabilitation therapy at Gillette. He made a good recovery and, once he was released, continued to be seen by Gillette specialists and therapists. When he was in first grade Luke returned to Gillette for tibial derotation surgery on his left leg, the side of his body most affected by the brain injury.
In 2019, the Olson’s took Luke to see Gillette pediatric rehabilitation medicine (PM&R) physician, Amy Authement, MD, to help him gain overall strength on his left side. Authement suggested Luke use the ArmeoSpring in his therapy sessions.
Sarah Olson recalls her initial thought the first time she saw the machine was, “Wow! This thing is impressive and very high tech.” She noticed improvement in Luke’s strength and ability in just a few ArmeoSpring sessions.
“He has more control and strength in his left hand now,” Sarah explains. “He’s now tying his shoes with both hands and is using his left hand much more. It’s wonderful!”
Making hard work seem like fun
Sarah says another benefit to the ArmeoSpring sessions is the nice relationship Luke has built with his therapists. “The therapists know Luke loves sports and they program the ArmeoSpring so he can play games that will strengthen the muscles he needs to develop to do things like dribble a basketball and throw a baseball,” Sarah says.
Gillette occupational therapist, Emily Lockman, says Luke’s love of sports helps her customize his work on the ArmeoSpring. She chooses a pre-programmed ArmeoSpring game that matches his interests and the skills he needs to build. That means Luke’s ArmeoSpring therapy is like a video game-like experience that helps him strengthen fine motor skills and specific muscles.
Lockman and other Gillette therapists say the ArmeoSpring is a key piece of technology for many of their patients. That’s because it makes hard work seem like play. “The ArmeoSpring helps kids work on skills such as grasp and release, raising arms, turning palms and wrist flexion and extension,” Lockman says. The ArmeoSpring is part of a comprehensive occupational therapy program at Gillette and each session on the equipment takes about 30 minutes.
“It’s especially helpful for kids who have had a stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy,” Lockman says. “It’s unusual to find an ArmeoSpring in a pediatric setting and we feel lucky to be able to offer this to our patients.”
The ArmeoSpring measures how the arm moves and the how the hand grasps and helps to assess a patient’s motor coordination and performance. This information helps therapists to track progress and customize therapy sessions.
Lockman says Luke works hard in his ArmeoSpring therapy and this dedication is helping him become as strong as possible and to regain function on his left side.
Sarah Olson agrees and says her family appreciates Gillette for its focus on helping kids discover what they CAN achieve. “It’s emotional to realize that even eight years after the accident Luke is improving. We can see his independence and are grateful.”