The image in the mirror

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For those who live with a disability you know what it's like to spend hours in physical or even occupational therapy.

If anyone reads my column then you are familiar with my situation. To sum it up very quickly for those who aren't familiar I was born with an arteriovenous malformation in my brain. It's very similar to an aneurysm but I wasn't aware of it until I was 27. That was in 1995 and a year later I had brain surgery to remove the rare malformation. All was well until about two-and-a-half years ago when I developed weakness on my right side resulting in my hand being completely clenched and an atrophied arm. I have had no movement in my wrist and developed drop-foot all due to a buildup of scar tissue where the surgery was performed.

I went to an occupational therapist who didn't know what to do and even went to a chiropractor but that didn't help either. But then Take Charge Physical Therapy moved in right next door to my office here at the Tribune.

For the past three months, twice a week I have been undergoing a myriad of exercises and a technique called dry needling as well as a routine of additional exercises to work on at home. Thanks to this and a lot of prayer I have improved dramatically. My hand is no longer clenched shut, I'm not tripping and falling and I am able to lift my arm.

She also has me working on what is known as mirror therapy. Started by V.S. Ramachandran, it was first used on wounded warriors who had a limb amputated but suffered from phantom pain in that missing limb. Ramachandran would have the patient put the arm that had not been amputated in front of a mirror so they would see a mirror image of that arm as if it was the affected one.

The patient would see the healthy limb go through different movements. Seeing the movements corrects the confused signals between the brain and nerves thereby reducing the pain. The mirror therapy seemed to work with amputees so it started being used on those with arthritis and stroke patients. The idea is to re-activate pathways in the brain by tricking the mind's eye.

Ted Carrick, a doctor who practices chiropractic neurology in Georgia, has seen a lot of success with this procedure in patients with traumatic brain injuries.

So my physical therapist, Kandra Lovato, has me working on this therapy at home. She told me that it takes 6,000 repetitions to retrain motor patterns in the brain. I'm a long way from 6,000 repetitions but I believe the combination of the exercises, dry needling and mirror therapy is helping and I'm not giving up. It will take a long time. Baby steps as Lovato calls it. But I'm determined to have full use of my arm, hand and leg once again, even if it means spending several hours a day on it.

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