The Story Behind Aligned As Designed
On January 15th of 2013 an SUV crashed into the driver's side door of my car. Over the next two years I would undergo three big surgeries and five procedures followed by eight long post-op and recovery periods.
I was continually told that I had unreasonable and unrealistic expectations in regard to my long-term prognosis. What almost everyone including my physicians didn't understand was that I didn't believe, nor did I expect my surgeries and PT to return my broken, twisted, disabled body to the way it was before the accident. I expected my surgeries and PT to give me an opportunity. Winston Churchill said, "A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty."
The crutches, leg brace, walker, walking canes and walking sticks that I used after my surgeries and procedures continuously misaligned and forced my healing body to be aligned, moved and positioned in ways it was never designed for causing secondary disability unrelated to my car accident.
Martial Arts Basis
I am a Black Belt in the martial arts styles of Kung Fu, WuShu and Escrima. At the time of the accident I was training for my second degree Black Belt in WuShu. I began my martial arts and Qigong training in my twenties with Sifu K and Master Wong and my Defendo training with Bill Underwood at the age of twelve. The first time I met Master Wong he handed me two books. The first book was Gray's Anatomy. Sifu K told me that I needed to learn how the body was put together and how it moves. The second book was a Physics book on rotational force. Master Wong told me that book would teach me to think of the human body as a biological movement machine made up of levers/skeletal bones and fulcrums/joints.
I started relearning how to walk without crutches on April 1st of 2015. I walked one block that day and the next day I walked two. It had been two years and three months since the accident. During that time, I had eight long post-op and recovery periods where my movement and mobility were severely restricted for months and months at a time.
On the 14th of April of 2015, I finalized my 4-year walking plan to regain physical ability from physical disability using my martial arts and Qigong training and started my working walks. I walked six painful miles that day. It took me six hours to walk those miles and I stopped and rested more then I walked. When I came home, I asked myself what I had learned that day. Then I took inventory and cried.
I couldn't write with my right hand due to the scare tissue in my right index finger. I couldn't write with my left hand due to the ulnar nerve damage in my left arm. I had such unrelenting nerve pain from my damaged sciatic and ulnar nerves that I couldn't sit for more than five minutes or pull my arm inward towards my side without pain radiating down my arm. I had trouble turning my head due to the damage done to my spine in the accident. As well as from the secondary disability caused from the way the crutches forced my head, neck and shoulders to be aligned, positioned and moved.
My surgeon made sure that my left leg was straight, aligned and the same length as my right leg when he finished surgery. The next three and a half months my left leg was bent, braced with my left foot off the ground. The muscles between my hip and knee lengthened and the ones between my knee and foot shortened including my Achilles tendon.
When I started relearning how to walk, my left leg was an inch longer than my right, but because my Achilles tendon and other foot muscles had shortened my left heel didn't touch the ground when I stood or walked. I had a different sized step, stride, and gait on each side of my body. I developed drop foot from my foot being off the ground for three and a half months. The front of my left foot didn't bend normally and there were places on the outside edge of my left foot that I couldn’t feel when I walked and when I was on the stairs.
This was not caused by the car accident. It was caused by the secondary disability from my crutches and leg brace. The angle and position that the crutches and the leg brace forced my healing leg, foot and my damaged spine to be continuously aligned and positioned in to maintain balance bankrupted the opportunity that my surgeons gave me to regain physical ability from my physical disability.
After I took inventory of my body, I started creating a motion map and a series of walking and standing exercises based on my martial arts and Qigong training that would align and connect movement and motion to and through the midline of my body.
Martial arts, like the study of dance, is the memorization of movement patterns. Qigong aligns and connects movement and motion to and through the midline of the body to maintain the body's alignment.
I started my Motion Map by mapping the motion points in a body that was in postural alignment using a skeletal diagram. Then I mapped my own broken, twisted, disabled body on a skeletal diagram. Next, I overlaid my map on top of the map of a body that was in postural alignment. I did that to give myself a starting point and point of reference to work from.
My martial arts and Qigong training helped me to understand that I didn't have a weak side and a strong side. I had an underloaded injured side and an overloaded side. That my overloaded side was becoming weaker and weaker and my underloaded injured side was stopping the two sides of my body from working together and generating balanced, stable movement and motion through and to the midline of my body. I understood that I needed to rebuild a foundation for my core muscles from the weakest point in my body. To do that I needed to do every exercise that I did on both sides of my body to reload the underloaded injured side and offload the overloaded uninjured side for there to be alignment and balance between the two sides of my body. Most of the exercises that I did each day needed to be done while I was standing and walking so that the two sides of my body could relearn how to work together again and to rebuild my core muscles, especially the ones that supported and maintained the alignment of my spine.
The motion map and the standing and walking exercises that I created and the cane that I invented let my foot relearn how to strike the ground from heel to toe. Allowing me to regain an upright, balanced step, stride and walking gait.
In martial arts, dance and most competitive sports you practice something until you think you know it, then you keep practicing it until it knows you. When what you're practicing flows out of you without thinking you've developed procedural memory that is automatic.
Procedural memory is a form of muscle memory from which the neural pathways in our brain that make motor behavior automatic are formed. When movement is restricted, changed or altered for a continuous length of time without interruption the pathways that make motor behavior automatic are changed. To quote Dr. Davis, "Use it or lose it." In other words, practice, good or bad makes permanent. You are the way you walk. If you walk upright and maintain your body's natural alignment with your feet striking the ground from heel to toe and your head aligned and centered between your shoulders you’ll become upright overtime because you are moving your body the way it was designed to move to engage your core muscles that maintain the alignment of your spine and your upright posture, balance, and stability. If you walk bent to one side or forward onto a cane or a crutch to maintain balance your spine loses its natural alignment. You have to shorten your step, stride and gait and your hip, knee and ankle joints stop being able to work together to balance and load the weight of your body over and your feet. Your feet can't strike the ground from heel to toe to engage your core muscles and you become more bent over with time because of the way you're walking to maintain balance. Wolffe’s Law-Bone function changes cause bone structure changes.
Learning to walk again
When I started learning how to walk again my left leg felt like someone had taken my right shoe, put it on my left foot, tightened it up as tight as they could, then rotated my left leg and hip outward and wrapped it in electrical tape. I had such profound muscle atrophy in my body from the two years and three months of restricted mobility that If I leaned left I started to fall sideways. I learned to use my eyes to help maintain my balance when I walked the way someone who is born with a vestibular condition does. Instead of looking down at the ground when I walked which would reduce my balance and stability and keep my feet from striking the ground from heel to toe and engaging my core muscles I kept my head up and aligned and centered between my shoulders. I set my line of sight in the distance of the direction I was walking not down at the ground.
When your line of sight is focused in the direction you’re moving instead of the ground your body has more balance, better stability and you're able to take a normal size step and maintain a big enough walking stride for your feet to strike the ground from heel to toe and engage your core muscles. The only time you should look down when walking is when you're on the stairs, making a transition from one surface height to another, or stepping over or around something in your path.
When I was a kid I used to love walking forward and backward along the edge of the curb. Walking along the edge of the curb forces you to equalize your step and stride and moves your legs closer together towards the midline of your body. The edge of the curb allowed me to start using the entire outside edge of my foot including the parts I couldn’t feel. I started with five steps on a very low curb near my house. I set my line of sight in the distance of the direction I was moving and not down at the ground. I did that to keep my head aligned and centered over my shoulders. My shoulders aligned over my hips and to maximize my visual field to maintain my balance. Every day I added a few more steps on the edge of the curb until I was walking more steps along the edge of the curb than off. When I walked along the edge of the curb I could use my foot properly. The minute I stepped off the curb I couldn't feel the outside edge of my foot and my walking was awkward. As the months and the next three years went by I slowly started to regain a more balanced step, stride, and gait even when I was off the curb. My body regained its natural alignment with my hip, knee, and ankle joints aligned and working together to load and unload the weight of my body over my feet from heel to toe. My core muscles especially the ones around my spine grew stronger month after month as did the alignment of my spine. I was able to reverse the kyphosis that I had developed from using crutches. After the first year I redeveloped feeling along the outside edge of my foot and my toes were able to bend normally again and my walking became less awkward.
After my hamstring surgery I would complain to my husband almost daily that my crutches were bankrupting the opportunity that my surgeons had given me. I would tell my husband almost nightly how your underarms were not designed to be extended away from your body when walking. That the crutch feet couldn't support or maintain my balance and the vertical stability of my body . That the crutches were forcing my arms and head to be positioned in front of the rest of my body to maintain balance creating injury and physical disability with each step I took.
When I briefly used traditional canes and walking sticks after I started relearning how to walk, I would complain to my husband that you can't extend your body’s base of support on one side of your body and then lean forward or to one side and onto a cane or walking stick handle to maintain balance without creating physical injury and disability throughout your entire body.
When I told my husband after I started walking that my surgeon had told me that I would never walk upright or normally again. He asked me what I had said to him? I told him that I said, I wasn't born walking and I wasn't born a Black Belt. My husband said then stop complaining about the crutches, canes, and walking sticks and use your knowledge of human biomechanics to build better mobility devices.
Inventing a better cane
I started creating my mobility devices by visualizing how to align and move a disabled body in a way that would align and connect movement and motion through and to the midline of the body. When I wasn’t thinking about how to align and reposition my steps to create physical ability from my physical disability during my daily working walks, I was thinking about how to invent a cane a crutch and other mobility devices that would support, maintain and align balance, stability, and upright posture. I knew that I needed to create a cane and crutch foot that would allow the head to stay aligned over the body. With the arm next to the side to maintain the alignment of the spine. To do that the cane/crutch foot would need to act like a 3rd foot and maintain balance from the back of the foot to the front of the foot without extending the arm or arms away from the body and forcing someone to lean on or towards the cane or crutch handle to maintain balance.
After I invented the cane I would use two of the them for 30 minutes a day to gently stretch the muscles in my legs and feet. I did that so I could offload the overloaded right side of my body and reload the underloaded left side. I developed standing exercises using the canes and the cane feet together with my feet to help strengthen the core muscles around my damaged spine and rebuild my abdominal muscles and the muscles on the front of my shoulders. Before and after my daily working walks I would use my canes for fifteen minutes to walk forward and backwards. I did that to help my left foot relearn how to walk from heel to toe again and to reestablish a balanced step, stride and walking gait between the two sides of my body.
It took over three years and three thousand miles to untwist my left leg and redevelop a balanced, upright walking gait. My left leg, hip and foot are straight and aligned as designed again. My legs are the same length. My step and stride on both sides of my body are balanced and my feet strike the ground from heel to toe engaging the core muscles with each step I take. I no longer have drop foot in my left foot because my cane helped stretch and lengthen my Achilles tendon and the muscles between my mid-foot and toes. Allowing the front of my foot and my toes to stretch and bend normally again when I walk. I have one-hundred percent of my former range and mobility in my left arm and shoulder. As of April 15th, of 2019 I'd walked 4,514 miles on my daily working walks. I walk normally today despite the prognosis I was given because of great surgeons and the cane that I invented, used, and patented that allowed me to redevelop a normal step, stride, and walking gait.
I still have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to live with and manage the pain from the nerve damage in my leg caused from the car accident.
In January and February of 2019, I received my first two United States Utility patents, and in April 2020 I received my first US Design patent on my cane and crutch foot. My Walker/Rollator patent was issued on November 12, 2019. My US Crutch Utility Patent was issued on June 1st of 2021. My Canadian Cane Utility Patent was issued on November 3rd, of 2020. I have more patents pending in the United States and abroad and additional improved mobility items being developed.
The cane that I invented is now being sold Worldwide.
In 2020 The West Coast Consortium For Technology And Innovation chose the 3rd Foot Cane to be a Portfolio Member.
Ardra Shepard chose The 3rd Foot Cane to be part of her 2021 Gift Guide for People With MS.
I was included in Think and Zoom Future of Disability 2021 — Global list of Disabled Innovators