Tiffany Baker Story

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New therapy helping paralyzed people walk again

Local woman wants to walk for wedding


Copyright 2000 The Spectrum. Used by permission.

ST. GEORGE -- Tiffany Baker walked three feet on Wednesday.

That may not sound like much, but for her the short walk was a big accomplishment.

Baker, a slender 22-year-old with a huge smile and sunny disposition, has spent half her life in a wheelchair.

"I was about 11-years-old when I became paralyzed," she said. "I was in dance and gymnastics until I became sick."

Suffering from Crohn's disease, Baker was treated with steroids which eventually paralyzed her.

For 11 years she has undergone physical therapy to keep her muscles strong. She regained the use of her arms by spending hours playing Yahtzee with her father. However, her leg muscles remained at only one-quarter percent of their strength, rendering them useless.

But EMG therapy is changing that.

Baker began the new physical therapy program with a new therapist in December. She took her first steps in 11 years last week.

She said her new goal is to be able to walk through the temple in November when she gets married.

"This physical therapy is totally different than anything else I ever did," Baker said. "My physical therapist is a miracle man."

Her therapist, Steven Bennett said he isn't a miracle man.

"I became a physical therapist to get people walking and change their lives," he said. "When I was able to work at the Houston Research Institute and then come here to open up this office, those were the miracles."

Bennett's office is about one of 10 across the United States that uses a relatively new therapy called EMG, short for electromyography.

EMG is a neuromuscular training program which can restore function to paralyzed or dysfunctional muscles resulting from strokes, spinal cord injury, brain injury and cerebral palsy.

The program, developed eight years ago, uses electrodes placed on a patient's muscle group. The electrodes read any electrical impulse being transmitted from the brain to the muscle.

"Muscles are made up of millions of little muscles," Bennett said. "The muscles are wired to the brain and once you get a path from the brain to the muscle, you can start to strengthen the muscles."

The electrodes track electrical signals from the brain that get past Baker's injured nerves, finding other pathways to the muscles. Once they get through, the electrical signals from the brain stimulate the muscles.

Baker can watch the signals on a computer screen. By watching the signals, she can learn how her brain is sending signals to her muscles. As she learns to control the signals, Baker can make her legs work again.

"What we are doing is reading any signal that gets past the injury," Bennett said. "Tiffany is reading the electrical signals from the brain and is trying to control them."

Bennett said Baker should be able to walk down the aisle for her Nov. 4 wedding with the help of a walker.

"It is still uncertain how much muscle use she will regain but the prognosis is good," he said. "I had a few others with a little less muscle tone than Tiffany that can now walk with the help of a staff or a cane."

Lying flat on her back in Bennett's office with electrodes attached to her hip flexors, Baker watches a computer screen dotted with blue and green lines.

The green line is for her left leg, the right is represented by the blue. Baker watches as the computer takes a muscle reading every thousandth of a second.

Because she has no feeling in her legs, Baker watches the computer screen to see whether her muscles are contracting.

After stimulating her hip flexors and quads, Baker gets ready to walk with the help of parallel bars.

With Bennett on one side and her fiancé Jason Frackell on the other, Baker stands. Her hands clench the bars as she prepares to move her feet.

Eyes fixed on the computer screen, Baker moves her left foot, her incredibly long hair tied in a ponytail to keep it out of the way.

Progress is slow, and Baker's knuckles are white from clenching the bars. But each time her foot moves forward, her cheering section voices words of encouragement.

Friend Julie Adams watches Baker's progress intently, eyes shiny with tears, her own knuckles white.

"This is extremely tense," Adams said. "But it's also awesome."

Occupational therapist Ben Fineran, who works for Bennett, also adds words of encouragement

Baker's arms give way several times under the strain and Bennett and fiancé Frackell jump forward to help her back to her feet.

Baker compares the therapy to pushing against a brick wall.

"It's hard," she said. "I really have to concentrate, but it feels so good to be able to move my feet."

Bennett offers Frackell tips to help Baker with her walking and physical therapy.

With plenty of volunteers to help at home, Bennett is confident Baker will reach her goal of walking for her wedding.

"My family is amazing," Baker said. "My sister Angie has been helping me tons for her Laurel project and has spent so many hours helping me."

Baker also thanked Betsy Ashman, Carma Webb, Tammy Pawell and her parents, Dwight and Dainn Baker, for their support.

"So many people have been helping me so I can walk again," she said. "And someday, I will be walking with all of them."

Baker is plagued by other health problems, including gastroparisis, a condition in which her stomach is paralyzed. But she is optimistic that, once she is able to walk, her other health problems will lessen.

"I have a lot of faith," Baker said with a big smile "I hope that once I can walk it will help."

EMG training helps alleviate muscle paralysis for any injury, except progressive diseases.

Physical therapist Steven Bennett conducts neuromuscular training, then follows up with a specific training program, to reinforce and strengthen the learning that occurred in the computer training session.

The program relies on training surviving nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord.

The Southwest Neurological Rehabilitation Center also is getting an ERGYS computerized bike, which will allow spinal cord injury patients to exercise by executing up to 300 coordinated muscle contractions per minute. The bicycle will be open to spinal injury patients free of charge. Those wishing to use the bicycle will only need to purchase the required electrodes.

The Southwest Neurological Rehabilitation Center will have their grand opening Friday, June 16, at 705 N. Bluff Street, Suite #3. For more information, call the center at 628-5194.


For Further Information

333 North Broad Street · Fairborn, Ohio 45324
Phone: (937) 879-0734 · FAX: (937) 879-5211 ·
Web Site:
Contact: James Schorey

Therapeutic Alliances Inc.
333 North Broad Street - Fairborn, OH 45324  USA
(937) 879-0734 - (937) 879-5211 (fax)

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