Real-Life Stories: The Gift of Rehab

Esser Family imageBecause of the generosity of a dedicated Froedtert family, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin is one of only a few facilities in the country with a groundbreaking piece of rehab equipment.  Called the ZeroG Overground Gait and Balance Training System, the equipment uses a ceiling-mounted harness to support a patient’s body weight during both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation.

It was made possible by a gift from the grateful family of Raymond Esser to the Froedtert Hospital Foundation.

From the day of his stroke on September 29, 2006, through the end of his courageous battle with cancer in November 2008, Ray Esser and his family were continually connected to Froedtert Hospital.

Through it all, Marlene, Ray’s wife of 58 years, was by his side.  “If you think your marriage and love is strong, it increases by so many times when you’re the caregiver,” Marlene says. “Ray was incredible. He never complained. Once in a while we’d cry together, but he wasn’t a complainer in life and he didn’t complain about this.” 

“Ray was one who, when he saw a need, he was there. Hospitals don’t always have the extra funds for certain things, and if there is anything we can do to help, that’s what Ray would have wanted"
- Marlene Esser

Following Ray’s death, the Esser family focused their giving to Froedtert on tributes to Ray’s memory.  Marlene and the couple’s three grown children, Mary Beth, Michael, and Thomas, have made many gifts to Froedtert.  The Clinical Cancer Center, Nursing Scholarships, and Froedtert’s Healing Plaza have all received generous contributions from the family.

Their latest donation, funds this new gait and balance training equipment that is helping rehabilitation patients return to walking safer and sooner after injury and other conditions.  The harness follows an overhead track, which allows for more therapy options, including walking stairs and uneven surfaces.  Trained therapists customize the settings, controlling the percentage of body weight supported, walk speed, and distance to match each patient’s abilities and progress.

“It can benefit a wide variety of patients including patients with strokes, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries or other conditions,” said Nicholas Ketchum, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.  “Many can benefit.”

The system will be used for inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation.  “Because it allows us to safely get patients bearing weight sooner, and in some cases walking earlier, therapy can lead to better outcomes and more independence sooner,” said Dr. Ketchum.

“With the harness, patients are less afraid of falling, and therapists can focus on fine-tuning the therapy rather than supporting the patient’s body weight,” said Jessica Doine, physical therapist in the Neuro-Rehab Program at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.  “The earlier we can help mobilize a patient, the better it is for regaining muscle strength, maintaining flexibility, increasing circulation, preventing muscle tightening and progressing balance.  There is so much benefit.”

Marlene credits Froedtert’s nurses and therapists (like those that will use this equipment) for their efforts.  “I couldn’t have picked better,” she says. “I think they helped tremendously in Ray’s quality of life.”

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