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UPMC St. Margaret using technology to help stroke victims

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 7:13 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
UPMC Facility Director Ann Marsico shows co-worker David Porter how to use ARMEO a physical therapy robot at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital.

A grant from the St. Margaret Foundation has put a quicker recovery for stroke victims within arm's reach.

Foundation President Mary Lee Gannon said the group donated $60,638 to purchase an occupational therapy rehabilitation robot for UPMC St. Margaret Hospital.

“This takes therapy to the next level,” said Ann Marsico, facility director at the hospital. “This will take the therapist out of the equation and show what the patient is really capable of doing.”

The Armeo robot provides task-oriented rehab for stroke patients and those with neuro impairment. Patients with limited arm use complete simulated tasks and play computer exercise games while the robot partially compensates for strength.

It reminds the brain how to control arm function, Marsico said.

“Without this, sometimes the lines would get blurred with what the therapist was doing and what the patient was doing,” she said. “This context encourages increased participation both emotionally and physically and promotes rapid gains.”

Patient Katherine Vidakovich is eager to give it a try. Her doctor explained the benefits of using the technology, she said.

“They can zero in on what activities will help each person,” Vidakovich said.

The robot was highlighted during an open house last week that also showcased the hospital's expansion of its Rehabilitation Institute.

Space nearly doubled, from 14 to 26 beds, to accommodate a growing need, said Judy Tinelli, rehab nurse clinician.

“Forty percent of our patients are in stroke recovery and we didn't have enough beds to serve them,” she said.

Nine new jobs have been created to staff the expanded fourth-floor unit, with the potential to add five more positions by January.

“With 14 beds, we were turning a lot of people away who wanted to stay here for their rehab,” Tinelli said.

Increased room and the addition of technology enables the hospital to offer the same level of care that patients would get at other UPMC campuses, Marsico said.

The addition of robotics and video games — patients use a Nintendo Wii to improve balance, coordination and endurance — are becoming common but valuable tools in rehab, said Chuck Finder, communications specialist for the rehab unit.

A unit like Armeo, developed by Swiss-based medical technology company Hocoma, allows for precise and measured repetition that can be adjusted for individualized care, he said.

“Sometimes it's hard to motivate and engage patients,” Marsico said. “With this, they're working hard but it distracts them with simulated games.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or

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