When Robert Ferguson shuffled in to Parkland’s Physical Therapy treatment area one year after his leg amputation due to diabetes complications, he was using a walker. He named her Eileen, as in “I lean on her,” he jokes.
Less than a month later, after working with Physical Therapist Shanan Richard, he had moved on to another lady – his cane, which he affectionately called J Lo. The following month, he was able to walk with no assistance on his prosthetic leg. With a smile, he jokes that he left both ladies at his home. He says he partially owes his success to a new physical therapy program at Parkland which helped him regain his strength and balance.
“The hardest part is walking and making sure I don’t lose my balance. My balance has always been kind of screwy but when I lost my leg, it’s really been crazy,” Ferguson said.
The medicine of fun
By using the Nintendo Wii™ video game system, Ferguson and other physical therapy patients have the chance to play games which require balance and hand-eye coordination. This practice makes it easier for Ferguson to walk without the aid of a cane.
When he steps on the Wii balance board, Richard helps him navigate the different game challenges and keep his balance. This, along with other physical therapy exercises, helped him go from using a walker to walking to the store from his apartment and swimming for hours at a time.
“It’s a fun way to do therapy but the purpose is always to increase functional endurance and range of motion,” Richard said. “I think it’s really helped Robert with his balance and it’s a great way to get in a different set of movements for patients.”
Both physical and occupational therapists at Parkland have been using Wii video games to increase range of motion, work on balance and regain mobility in a variety of cases such as patients who suffered burns, had a stroke or heart attack or use prosthetic limbs.
For Ferguson, while keeping his balance on the Wii board is not easy, he is excited when he hits a goal during a Wii soccer match or cuts between the flags during downhill skiing. The games tire him so he stops for a breather, but after some rest he doesn’t hesitate to keep going at Richard’s urging.
Ferguson lost his leg last year due to a diabetic ulcer on the bottom of his foot. Doctors did two surgeries a few days apart – first amputating his foot to prevent the spread of infection, then removing his leg below the knee so he would be able to use a prosthetic.
“When they took my foot off, I felt no pain whatsoever and I felt ten times better. They told me if I would have waited a few more days, I probably would have died,” Ferguson remembers. “I felt like a new person – my attitude was better, everything was better. I felt like this was my second chance so I went after it.”
He spent a week at the hospital after his surgeries under the close supervision of the Parkland nursing staff who made sure he did not try to get out of bed. It took him a year to get back on his feet and walk on his own. Now with the help of Parkland’s unique physical therapy utilizing the Wii, Ferguson tackles games that require balance and strength.
As a result, he is back to walking on his own two legs and leading a normal life.
Ferguson also adds his own healing advice, “If you keep a positive attitude, you will heal quicker and feel better. It works!”
By Veneta Lusk