The stroke hit like a hammer, and Angelika Byorth fell to the ground in her Country Club home on Mother’s Day of last year.
She lay there two days, the stroke also muddling her ability to note the passage of time. Her son found her.
“At first, it destroyed everything,” said the 59-year-old woman. “I lost the ability to live in the house I had lived in since 1988.”
She couldn’t work as a German-language teacher for Lincoln Public Schools or as a real estate broker. And she couldn’t continue rescuing turtles, a lifelong passion for a woman who legally changed her middle name to Turtle Lady nearly a decade ago.
For her first three days in the hospital, she could speak only her native German. She also suffered paralysis on her left side and spent six weeks at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
That’s where she began the long road back to recovery, largely with the help of a machine devised by Madonna’s staff and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and local custom manufacturer SourceOne. On Thursday, Byorth demonstrated the Intelligently Controlled Assistive Rehabilitation Elliptical Training System, or ICARE.
Madonna announced Thursday it plans to partner with Taiwan-based SportsArt Fitness, a global fitness equipment manufacturer, to distribute the hospital’s ICARE training system nationally. SourceOne will manufacture parts for the device.
“The ICARE provides access to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations and helps them either learn to walk again or improve their walking,” said Marsha Lommel, president and CEO of Madonna.
Madonna and its research partners developed the device by modifying a SportsArt elliptical trainer. It offers powered walking support to people with weakness or limited mobility. Its sensor adjusts the level of support, increasing it for those who need it and decreasing it for those who don’t.
The device also features an adjustable seat, overhead body weight support system, stairs and grab bars.
The ICARE device will sell at about one-tenth the cost of typical robotic gait devices, which usually sell for about $350,000, Lommel said. Three rehabilitation hospitals in Illinois, New Jersey and Connecticut already have purchased the Madonna device.
After suffering her stroke, Byorth feared she wouldn’t be able to navigate the steps of her two-story home, and began trying to sell it. But later, regaining much of her mobility through use of the ICARE, she realized she might be able to live there. Her ability to walk up and down the home’s stairs had improved, and she credits much of her recovery to the ICARE device.
“That was a really big step in getting better,” she said. “I’m now focusing again on my life."