Aug 28, 2017

Italian wheelchair hopes to bring users freedom

After nearly 20 years working with wheelchair-bound youngsters, Mario Vigentini wanted to revolutionise their quality of life, inventing a device that raises up users so they are face-to-face with those standing.
The Italian drew inspiration from the Segway – the two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric vehicle that allows visitors to nip around cities without walking – and came up with the “MarioWay“, a hands-free, two-wheeled kneeling chair.
With its high seat, it allows users to do everything from ordering a coffee at a bar to plucking a book off a high shelf.
The Italian government was so impressed it proudly showed off the chair to the G7 transport ministers in June.
The aim was to create “a tool of social integration“, Vigentini told AFP at his headquarters in Bergamo.
The 45-year-old found working with young people with mental and physical disabilities “an extraordinary adventure“, but was disheartened by the prejudice they faced.
“At best, people approached them like a child,” he said, as if because they were sitting closer to the ground they were somehow more infantile.
Racking his brains for a way to change the situation, he came up with the idea of “trying to put an ergonomic seat – like those from the Nordic countries that were very fashionable in the 1990s – on a Segway.” 
“Nine out of ten people I talked to about this idea looked at me as if I came from another planet,” he said.
But he was persuaded to take the idea to a start-up competition in Naples in 2012 – and made it to the final.
Buoyed, he set up a team to study the ergonomics involved and brought in a dozen disabled people as collaborators.
Users of traditional wheelchairs are seated so that “the organs in the upper part of the trunk are compressed“, while “almost the whole weight rests on the ischium” – the lower and back part of the hip bone.
This position “aggravates the pathologies of people with disabilities and results in other issues; digestive, respiratory, urinary or circulatory,” he said, adding it also causes leg muscles to waste away.
But for users of Vigentini’s invention, “the upper part of the trunk is straightened“, strengthening muscles which go unused in traditional wheelchairs.
The chair can go up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) an hour on a battery life of 30 kilometres.
It is equipped with “sensors that read the position of the body“, so that “if I move my upper body slightly forward, the MarioWay advances slightly,” said Flaviano Tarducci, the company’s business development manager.
“It’s the same to move backwards, while to go from side to side you move your pelvis slightly left or right,” he said.
The design means that tasks that have been very challenging for traditional wheelchair users – such as opening doors or carrying a glass of water to a table – can be carried out with relative ease.
Vigentini hopes to help destigmatize the wheelchair, which has remained unchanged for nigh on a century.
In the search for cool, his team has even swapped notes with a company that customises Harley Davidson motorbikes.
Its thermally-strengthened hubs and hand-stitched seats are not cheap. The MarioWay went on sale a few weeks ago at 19,300 euros ($22,500), while a standard electric wheelchair costs between 1,500 euros and 30,000 euros.
But Vigentini said he and his team are “doing everything we can” to lower the price to around 10,000 euros by signing a deal with an industrial production partner.
And one day he hopes able-bodied people will use MarioWay too as a means of getting about town – much like a bicycle or Segway – which could help make mobility differences, between those who are disabled and those who are not, a thing of the past. --AFP

Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

Aug 25, 2017

Remembering the polio epidemic of the 1950s: Part I

Craig KumerfieldPublished 11:02 p.m. CT Aug. 21, 2017
The word polio is short for poliomyelitis. The highly-contagious disease is caused by the poliovirus, while myelitis refers to an infection or inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord, which is part of the central nervous system.
The disease was classified as either paralytic or non-paralytic.
Non-paralytic does not lead to paralysis and only lasts up to ten days. It has flu-like symptoms, which included, among others, headache, sore throat and fever. Even though the symptoms were relatively minor, parents were nevertheless thrown into a fit of anxiety, fearing the worst. But in most cases, the patient recovered fully within a week.
One of the most startling statistics associated with non-paralytic polio is that up to 95 percent of polio cases had no symptoms at all! The vast majority of people who contracted the disease didn’t even know they had it! That means that people like many of us who grew up during the polio epidemic may have had polio without knowing it.
Paralytic polio was far more serious
The other, and much more serious type of polio is paralytic polio. Its symptoms are much like those of non-paralytic. However, after a week, much more serious symptoms show up, which may include sudden paralysis, partial or complete.
Less than 1 percent of all polio cases are paralytic, of which there are three types – spinal cord polio; polio in the brain stem (bulbar polio); or both, which is called bulbospinal polio. If the polio virus gets into the brain (bulbar), the muscle groups in the chest needed for breathing and swallowing became paralyzed. This was the most feared complication of the disease, and death often occurred at this point. However, doctors were able to save many patients by employing a large device called an iron lung.
The iron lung, also called the “Drinker Respirator” (invented by Dr. Philip Drinker in 1929) was employed to help the patient breathe. The iron lung was a large, tubular tank that provided artificial respiration until the patient could breathe independently. Many patients were placed in the iron lung for only a week or two, then were able to breathe on their own. Others weren’t so fortunate.
Areas that were hard hit by the epidemic had iron lungs flown in from areas that didn’t need them. Hospital hallways were lined with iron lungs during the epidemic, and it’s estimated that over time the iron lung saved many thousands of lives. However, they were cumbersome and very expensive. In 1930, they cost $1,500 each, which was the price of an average home.
Polio wasn’t the only health threat
One of the many reasons why polio was such a feared disease is that no one knew how the disease was spread. Doctors and laboratory researchers worked tirelessly trying to find answers to a disease that crippled thousands.
But, in spite of how dangerous and dreaded polio was, many doctors disliked all the emphasis placed on polio because it drew attention away from more serious health threats. Doctors knew that most of the people who had polio didn’t even know it, and those that did, most recovered with no disability.
They felt a much larger health threat was tuberculosis, which 34,000 people died from in 1950. Also, the deadly flu epidemic of 1957 killed 62,000. By contrast, 3200 people died during 1952, the worst year of the polio epidemic.
But diseases that show up suddenly, as polio did, coupled with the fact that no one completely understood the disease, caused a great deal of fear throughout the nation. Moreover, unlikely as it was, the fear of paralysis terrified many people. Some people felt that the only thing worse than dying of paralytic polio was having the disease and not dying.
Polio research revealed a cruel paradox
Health officials were unsure how the virus spread and how to prevent it. Parents kept their kids clean and well-rested and took every other precaution to prevent the disease. Strangely enough, though, research showed that poor immigrant children who lived in unsanitary conditions were exposed to small amounts of the virus and became immune at an early age. Children from clean, middle-class homes, on the other hand, were at much greater risk of paralytic polio.
That’s where we’ll leave off this week. Next week we’ll look at the polio epidemic closer to home. South Dakota was the hardest hit state per capita in 1948, and Sioux City, Iowa, was the hardest-hit city per capita in the United States during the 1952 epidemic. We’ll cover that and a lot more on the polio epidemic next week. We hope you’ll join us.

Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

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