MIAMI – Laura Gagne balanced on wobbly legs and desperately tried to steady herself as yellow and blue lines snaked across a display screen.
Her involuntary shakes and tremors were mirrored in squiggles, her body connected to a computer by electrodes.
“Blue up, yellow down. That’s it! Doing better!” cheered therapist Maria Varela.
Welcome to the biofeedback program at Miami Jewish Health, where, using the Brucker method, patients learn to retrain their brains using visual cues. The alternative therapy has helped many with brain and spinal cord injuries and stroke damage regain balance, stand and walk.
The Gains from Biofeedback Therapy Lure Patients from Overseas
Gagne, a brain injury patient from France, is one of about 200 patients who practice “medical tourism,” traveling from France to Miami for the alternative treatment. She is among an estimated 300,000 international patients who visit the United States annually seeking specialty care, according to Josef Woodman, author of “Patients Beyond Borders.”
Gagne and her family have traveled to the United States 19 times over eight years, flying more than a cumulative 170,000 miles for the specialty treatment in Miami.
“Brucker has changed her life for the better,” said Laura’s mother Isabelle. Gagne also receives a variety of other supporting therapies in France. Over time, the 27-year-old has learned to control her tremors for short periods of time, as well as stand and take steps with assistance.
Although prices in other countries may be cheaper, American specialists “are often called upon to treat cases considered difficult or untreatable elsewhere,” Woodman explained.
Marynell Lubinski, vice president of Physician Services at Miami Jewish Health, said the French biofeedback patients return because they get results.
“Our patients feel the quality of services offered here is higher than other centers in Europe,” Lubinski said.
Because patients’ muscles are connected to a computer display screen by electrodes, they can see if a muscle is firing properly, even if they can’t achieve the desired movement instantly. The system creates incredible incentive.
Gagne was 11 years old when she suffered a severe head injury in a violent car crash. Various therapies in France produced marginal results but biofeedback using the Brucker method has given her family hope. And that’s why they travel.
“Six years ago Laura couldn’t even sit in a chair without constant shaking due to the ataxia,” Varela said. “Now she can stand, she walks with moderate assistance and she doesn’t shake in the chair anymore.”
Visual Aspect of Biofeedback Therapy Provides Incentive
Judy Harper is also a huge believer in the Brucker method of biofeedback. Her husband Arthur suffered a severe stroke in 1994 and has regained partial use of his left arm and greatly improved his walking gait through biofeedback therapy. The couple also travels for the therapy, driving several hours south from Sarasota, FL.
Doctors had initially predicted Arthur Harper would never walk again.
The Harpers met the late Dr. Bernard Brucker years ago in New York and decided to try biofeedback. It’s a decision they said changed their lives.
“I think the visual aspect of it is what really helps the patient. (They can see) the muscles responding,” Varela said. “Because of the connection from the brain to the muscle, they can see what that muscle is capable of doing.”
Today Arthur Harper is walking better, he can lift his arm and move his hand. His grasp remains weak, but his dexterity continues to improve.
“They teach me how to think,” explained Arthur, 77. “It’s subconscious. What you are learning how to do is operate a muscle you want to use and relax the opposition muscle.”
The Brucker method not only works after neurological injuries but has proved useful for children with cerebral palsy. Patients who have never been able to walk – and have been told that they would never walk – have found hope at Miami Jewish Health.
“Dr. Brucker figured out you could show the brain actually connecting to that muscle if you looked at the computer screen and the line was climbing higher and higher,” Judy Harper explained. “That showed the patient that the message to that muscle was getting stronger. I call it the greatest ‘atta boy’ there is. It’s encouragement and the brain feeds on it.”
After his stroke, Judy Harper wondered if her husband would ever regain a sense of normalcy. The Brucker method of biofeedback helped him get his life back.
“He’s the miracle man and it’s all because of Dr. Brucker. This biofeedback stuff makes improvements every single time,” she said.
For more information about the Brucker method, contact Maria Varela at firstname.lastname@example.org.