Local Rehab Similar To Giffords'

Posted: 2:08 PM EDT Aug 17, 2011   Updated: 6:22 AM EST Jan 28, 2011

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is one day into what doctors are calling an "aggressive therapy" program.

Giffords was shot in the head January 8th when a gunman opened fire outside of a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed.

Giffords is now at TIRR Memorial Herman in Houston, Texas working to regain her strength, balance and speech.

"What she's going through is typical for a lot of brain injury patients," explained Dr. Sanghoon Kim, Medical Director of the Brain Injury Unit at Reading Hospital for Post Acute Rehabilitation.

Just over a year ago, Berks County got its first certified brain injury treatment center in the form of the Reading Hospital for Post Acute Rehabilitation. There, you'll find some of the same state of the art technology and techniques that Giffords will encounter.

Giffords' doctors say they'll focus on building strength in her right side and force the non-injured parts of her brain to take over for the damaged area.

Therapists say in the past five years, research has shown technology helps expedite that process.

"We're seeing quicker results with the same outcome of getting patients home to the community," said Michelle Nerino, Program Director of the Reading Hospital Rehabilitation Center.

One of the key pieces of equipment at the Reading Hospital for Post Acute Rehabilitation and in Congresswoman Giffords' recovery is something called body weight support. The mobile harness holds the patient's weight so the therapist can focus on perfecting individual movements.

"It also allows the therapists to work specifically on the quality and the gait patterns so that the patient doesn't develop an abnormal movement pattern," Nerino explained.

Giffords will also use robotic technology, like a device called ReoGo, to help regain arm movement.

"The patient has a joystick and it allows them to look at a computer screen and simulate activities," said Nerino.

Further into recovery, Giffords may encounter the Balance Master.

"[It] puts the patient on a platform and allows us to look at...their balance and dizziness center," explained Nerino. "It allows us to change the environment to challenge a patient from a balance perspective."

Even with the help of technology, doctors say it could take up to a year or more for Giffords to see her progress plateau.

Still, Giffords' doctors and doctors here at Reading Hospital share the same goal for all of their patients who've survived a traumatic injury.

"We're the quality of life savers," said Dr. Kim. "So they come to us alive, but they can't do the basic things like dressing, eating, speaking and communicating.

And we try to provide that and hopefully get them back to their previous level of function."