Soldiers with lost limbs get high-tech rehabilitation in virtual reality lab
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014 10:32PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014 10:37PM EDT
In an Ottawa laboratory, Sgt. Gaetan Bouchard’s body is strapped with dozens of sensors, half-suspended in a harness by bungee cords. But his mind is in another world -- a virtual world, projected onto a 200-inch screen, which he navigates on dual hydraulic treadmills.
Here, he learns to walk again.
“My ears were ringing, I heard a boom,” the Afghanistan veteran says in French, describing the day he stepped on an improvised explosive device.
“My life completely changed after that.”
But in this virtual reality lab, Bouchard fights to change his life back. It’s been four years since he lost his leg. Now, with pinpoint, real-time readings from infrared cameras, he puts his prosthetic to the test.
The lab’s physiotherapists monitor the feedback as he runs, letting them learn things about his gait they might have missed with the naked eye. The ring of cameras surrounding him track the white sensors stuck to his legs, arms and back. They capture his motion from every angle, creating the sort of digital model you’d see behind the scenes of a movie.
This technology -- unheard of in physiotherapy a decade ago -- boosts rehabilitation for the people who expect the most out of their bodies.
“Our members have goals that far exceed what civilian rehabilitation centres are used to,” says Capt. Pauline Godsell, Bouchard’s physiotherapist. “They're high-performance, tactical athletes and they expect that of their rehab.”
But not every injury is from combat. Warrant Officer Karen McCoy lost her leg 10 years ago to osteosarcoma.
Compared to her first forms of therapy, she calls this virtual treatment “transformational.”
“I'd walk around with a saucer and a cup of water around the hospital, trying not to spill it,” she says of some of her earlier rehab. These machines, she says, are a vast improvement.
“It makes you want to stay with it. And just shows everybody that it can be done.”
The doctor turns up the difficulty as Bouchard strides through a park. Outside the machine, he still walks with a limp. But whether he’s teetering across an imaginary rope bridge or kicking a soccer ball in a simulated stadium, in this computer-generated world, virtual work transforms into real-life results.
With a report by CTV’s Omar Sachedina in Ottawa