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West Nile survivor uses special bike in recovery

Posted at 12:26 AM, Dec 01, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A West Michigan man diagnosed with West Nile is using technology available through Mary Free Bed to regain his mobility back.

Al Walczak was first diagnosed three years ago with West Nile. He was unable to move his limbs and slowly regained more range of motion throughout his recovery. He began using the functional electrical stimulation cycle several months ago before gyms closed due to COVID restrictions. He took up working out on the equipment again about six weeks ago when gyms were allowed to reopen.

The functional electrical stimulation cycle delivers pulses of electrical current to the nerve, thereby contracting the muscles that can be weak or paralyzed through neuromuscular disease or injury. It uses electrodes that are attached to the skin to contract the muscles. The equipment is often used for patients who have suffered from spinal injuries or other neurological conditions.

The equipment is available at Mary Free Bed Hospital and the Mary Free Bed YMCA.

"It’s really hard to exercise your heart and your lungs from a wheelchair unless you’ve got the right kind of equipment and everybody knows how important that is," said Walczak. "I was hoping I could get to this point. I wasn’t really sure though. It’s such a rare thing that nobody is really sure what is going to happen."

The electrical current can be a little uncomfortable, described as feeling like pins and needles. However, Walczak has been able to work himself up to eight miles on the device.

"It’s been great. It’s a pleasure to work with him and help him along in his recovery and just awesome to be a part of that alongside him to help him really improve in his progress and maximize his strength and mobility," said Dr. Jake Miller, Physical Therapist at Mary Free Bed.

Walczak's wife has also noticed the changes at home.

"Now he can lift and kick and move different parts of his legs in different directions than he used to be able to. He has also gained a lot of core strength so he can sit on the edge of the bed and do exercises there," said wife Joy.

Even when he is not at the gym, Walczak works out several hours at home with different equipment.

"I think that habit really has helped me a lot since West Nile because it wasn’t hard for me kind of get back on that exercise binge again," said Walczak.

He's optimistic the continued exercise will help him achieve even more independence.