Local Embraces New Health Tech

Eric J Kos    Alameda resident Julie Lyons, seen here at the Franklin Park pool, gets around town just fine with her Bioness LG300-GO. Lyons suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Alameda resident Julie Lyons lives an active lifestyle. She runs her own acupuncture business, main-tains an active workout schedule and stays up to date with friends and family. Lyons enjoys a lifestyle similar to any other Alamedan, but she also has multiple sclerosis (MS). 

“It’s kind of like every day I feel like I run a marathon,” said Lyons. “Fatigue can be a major symptom for some people with MS.” 

An auto-immune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the myelin, a sheath of cells that encases nerves, MS attacks primarily the brain and spinal cord. It can also be termed a central nervous system disorder. The disease affects people differently, depending on the part of the brain or spine impacted. In Lyons’ case, MS targeted mostly her left side, making it extremely difficult to move her left leg and arm. 

“The nerve becomes like a faulty electric wire,” said Lyons. “The signal jumps along, slows down and becomes incomplete.” 

With MS, nerves may still be able to carry an electric pulse that can stimulate muscles, but cannot receive that message from the brain. “My peroneal nerve is still intact. What’s lost is its connection to the brain,” said Lyons.

A physical therapist by trade, Lyons has a unique understanding of her disease. But she also found a ground-breaking way to deal with it. While learning more about MS through health publications, Lyons came across the Bioness. Lyons firmly believes this electronic device has helped stabilize her leg mus-cles, and by keeping her active, reduces the limits MS puts on her.

“After my foot-drop diagnosis I looked into getting the Bioness versus the standard ankle-foot orthosis plastic device that you just put in your shoe.” said Lyons. “The Bioness L300-GO is far more sophisticated.”

The Bioness provides “functional electrical stimulation” — essentially flexing muscles with an electric pulse at the precise moment the body needs them. A few versions of the Bioness exist for different purposes, but Lyons uses two: one on her lower leg’s tibialis anterior muscle and one on her thigh. With the two devices turned on, Lyons walks like the wind. Her foot lifts at the correct angle to keep her steps steady and her knee from hyperextending. The Bioness senses the position of her leg through each step.

Features include a cell phone app that tracks some of Lyons’ health data through the Bioness, and a remote control device that can increase or decrease its intensity. It can also be used in walking or training modes. Kind of neat that Lyons can have the Bioness work out her muscles for her while in training mode. 

The Bioness helps Lyons attend swim sessions at the Franklin Park pool, where she is a member and receives tremendous support. (Note: she removes the Bioness, an electronic device, before she swims — the device is not waterproof.) She held a fundraiser there last March and raised $6,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of America that empowers people to host such events. She also enjoys kayaking, riding her trike and many other activities.

“If I didn’t have this device, I wouldn’t have this life,” said Lyons. “I would have had to stop working, go on disability and sell my practice. I don’t understand why more people — even doctors and other practitioners — don’t know about this product.” 

To learn more about the Bioness and how it can help people with who have suffered strokes, traumat-ic brain injuries, incomplete spinal cord lesions, and of course, MS, visit www.bioness.com. The device is FDA approved and may be covered by insurance. 

Lyons mentioned the MS Society, an organization headquartered in San Francisco, will host a major fundraising event, a bicycle ride called “Waves to Wine” Saturday, Sept. 21. Rides can cover 20, 40, 60 or 100 miles. The longest starts in San Francisco and ends in Rohnert Park.
Lyons looks to complete the 20-mile ride this year which will mark her first time participating in this ride since her initial diagnosis in 2009. 

“I rode the 100-mile ride for multiple years raising money for people with MS not knowing that someday I myself would be diagnosed with the disease,” she said.