The Arizona news source, Azfamily.com, reports on an Arizona State University triathlete who uses a small electronic device to continue competing in the sport she loves, despite her partial paralysis.
In 2008, Allysa Seely became ill and was eventually diagnosed with chiari malformation and basilar invagination. These developmental anomalies led to the incorrect formation of the base of Seely’s skull and the top of her spine, causing her brain stem to get pushed down into her spinal column.
That abnormal development led to a type of neurological damage called dystonia in her left foot. Dystonia is a movement disorder which causes patients to develop involuntary muscle contractions that result in twisting and repetitive movements.
This disorder forces Seely’s left foot into a curled position, making it difficult for her to walk, never mind compete in a grueling triathlon race.
Nevertheless, following surgery in 2011, Seely decided to again take up the sport she loves and joined her University’s triathlon team. Displeased with a brace that pushed her foot flat, she decided to run on the outside of her foot and risk injury in order to continue participating.
However, last August Seely was introduced to the Walkaide and all that changed. This device, about the size of an iPod, delivers electrical stimulation into her nerves and flattens her foot, allowing her to run on the sole of her shoe again. She does not use the device during the swimming or biking portions of triathlon races.
The Walkaide is an FDA-approved device which was developed for a variety of brain and spinal injury or disease patients. This includes those who suffered a stroke, developed multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy, or underwent a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury.
Because this device is not generally used on patients undertaking a physically demanding activity like participating in a race, formatting it to match pace with Seely’s six-minute mile was a challenge. Bret Bostock with Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics explained that making it fire at the correct timing and then reset was extremely difficult and took six months to perfect.
Despite all the challenges she faced, Seely said she believes it has been her positive attitude and determination that have given her the opportunity to compete as a triathlete again. “I never doubted it and I think that’s what got me here today,” she said.
Seely is currently training for the Collegiate Nationals, which take place next month. However, as early as 2014 she plans on competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.