Paxton man's creation may improve patients' use of walkers

Paxton man's creation may improve patients' use of walkers

PAXTON — Since retiring 12 years ago, Dick Bement's wood-carving hobby has risen to new heights. Last year, he forged a Green Bay Packers helmet, with a Swiss-cheese base, out of wood. His newest creation is a giant sculpture of Chief Illiniwek.

But lately, the 73-year-old Paxton resident's hands have been busy working with a different medium: plastic.

Using plastic donated by Paxton-based Plastic Designs Inc., Bement has designed and created an  attachment that clips onto practically any walker. The device allows people with a leg or ankle injury to keep the ailing extremity raised and stabilized while maintaining balance. It also relieves pressure on the shoulders.

The Champaign-based start-up company IntelliWheels is now taking a serious look at Bement's invention for possible use in the medical field as a safe alternative to a wheelchair or crutches.

"We're interested in introducing this into the market," said Marissa Siebel, who co-founded IntelliWheels in 2010 with Scott Daigle and paralympian Josh George.

Siebel and Daigle were at the Illinois Knights Templar Home in Paxton on May 1, seeking feedback from the nursing home's therapy staff about the benefits of Bement's device. After the company is done gaining community feedback and finishes testing prototypes, Daigle said he expects IntelliWheels to start manufacturing the product. Daigle said IntelliWheels will then likely market the product in catalogs and send free samples to nursing homes, doctors' offices and other medical facilities.

The price will be kept below $100, Daigle said.

Bement, a member of the Corn Belt Shrine Club in Gibson City, said he would like to donate some of the proceeds to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.

But his "lady friend," Cheryl Leighton of Paxton, might want a cut, too. If not for her breaking her ankle, Bement would have never come up with the idea.

"When she (broke her ankle and was admitted to the Knights Templar Home for therapy), I said, 'Cheryl, you know I would have never come up with this if you'd have never broken your ankle,'" Bement recalled. "I said, 'Do you think you're going to be owed something?' She said, 'I'm thinking in the neighborhood of 88 percent.' My answer to her was, 'Are you on drugs?' She said, 'At the present time, yes, I am.'"

Leighton, who was released from the nursing home on April 28, is still using the walker attachment Bement made for her as she continues outpatient treatment. She said the device has "just been a positive thing for me."

"I've only been home since Monday, but I've been able to stand at my sink and wash my dishes, and I can lean over and get my pots and pans, and I can go to my laundry room and do a wash and fold clothes while standing," Leighton said. "Whereas, if you had just the walker, you have to worry about your balance and so on. I've found that it's just been great."

Leighton's experience is precisely what Bement intended with his walker attachment.

"She's got the stability. She's not standing there on one foot," Bement said. "But I just hope it helps somebody else besides her. That's the bottom line."

Bement took a prototype of the walker attachment to the Shriners Hospital in Chicago on April 30. While there, he looked at an estimated 40 variations of walkers used by the hospital's physical therapy department and discovered that "this (attachment) would work on any of them."

"I think that people, the human being, will adapt to and overcome almost any situation," Bement said. "Those little kids at the Shriner's Hospital, they got a leg that don't work, an arm that don't work, but they figure out a way to do what they want to do and get where they want to be. And I think this thing right here helps that situation. ... It makes you more mobile."

Siebel said Bement's invention can help people "dealing with basically any injury below the knee."

"This can clip onto any existing walker," Siebel said. "It's lightweight, and it can be adjusted for height and switched from one side (of the walker) to the other, depending on which side (of the body) was affected for the person.

"So now, the person's able to have elevation and support while they're rehabbing their lower extremity. This creates a really nice bio-mechanical correct balance position for someone as they're walking.

"This is something that can be used temporarily or during the long healing phase. And as the person continues to heal, you can just take this (attachment) off (the walker), and then you're back to weight bearing with the assistance of any walker."

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