FARGO-Unlike those who might dread going to physical therapy, Deanna Bakken grins and says, "I get to go to therapy today." The 49-year-old from Fargo suffers from cerebral palsy and cerebellar atrophy and has spent more than 20 years of her life confined to a wheelchair, but thanks to a new LiteGait system at Rehab4Life, she is now logging miles on a treadmill.

"I just like the opportunity to get up on my legs and walk," Bakken said. "When people offer to walk with me, they better be prepared to help me because I take them up on it every time."

Owner Roger Stroh recently moved Rehab4Life to a new, larger facility in south Fargo so he could accommodate more equipment like the treadmill. In addition to helping people like Deanna, he said the new equipment will also make it possible for some patients with spinal cord injuries to do rehabilitation here rather than going out of state.

'It's been a godsend'

Stroh explained that the LiteGait system benefits people who have had a spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy. It's equipped with a harness that takes some of the weight off a patient's legs and sensors that report feedback to the therapist such as how much weight is being put on each leg and which way the patient might be leaning. The therapist can then use that information to help the patient make necessary adjustments.

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Stroh said one major benefit of the treadmill is repetition.

"Research has proven over and over that repetition is way more effective than the traditional way of getting a patient up with a walker," he said. "That's good to do, but with this system, they are able to go for a long time or a long distance, getting a rhythm and a good pattern. It also holds them up so they don't fall over. They have a much, much better outcome."

A Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Bike is another new piece of equipment for Rehab4Life. Therapists are able to roll a patient in a wheelchair right up to the bike's pedals. Several electrodes are then attached to the patient's legs that will stimulate the muscles to simulate pedaling.

"For someone with a spinal cord injury, their goal is to get up and walk again. We're basically firing the muscles to retrain the brain and the muscles to interact to work again. There is a lot of research that proves it does happen," Stroh said.

The machine is also useful for patients with complete paralysis. Benefits include prevention of muscle atrophy and blood clots and improved heart and lung function.

Bakken, who has always walked short distances with help, said working out on the equipment has improved her stability.

"I know I will never get to the point of being independent, but at least I won't be throwing my folks around," Bakken joked.

She explained that it's difficult to control her body when her momentum gets going. Improved stability has helped that.

Her mom, Kay Bakken, said her daughter has faced a lot of challenges in life, so this treatment is truly a blessing.

"This is the highlight of her week. She so looks forward to it. It's been a godsend," she said.

Other services

Stroh began his private physical therapy practice 10 years ago as At-Home Physical Therapy. The business name has changed over the years to reflect additional services such as occupational and speech therapy, but Stroh and the other therapists who have joined him continue to provide their services in the home as well as at their locations in West Fargo, Fargo and Casselton, N.D. They also have satellite offices in several area nursing homes.

Other specialties of the practice include pre-employment placement testing, return-to-work evaluations, ergonomic assessments, jaw pain and lymphedema therapies.

The message Stroh wants people to know is that patients have a choice of where to get therapy.

"We are a private practice, so we don't have that automatic system of getting patients," he said. "I think a lot of times when a physician says they need therapy, they just automatically get connected with that facility. We need the community to know that we are an option."

Business profile

What: Rehab4Life

Where: 4620 40th Ave. S., Suite B, Fargo. The company also has offices in West Fargo and Casselton, N.D.

Contact: (701) 293-7294

Online: www.rehab4life.net