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 between one and a half and three and a half 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 during the three and a half months that my left leg was braced, bent with my foot off the ground.
My surgeon made sure that my left leg was 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 foot muscles had shortened my left heel didn't touch the ground when I stood or walked. I developed drop foot from my foot being off the ground and from the nerve damage in my leg. 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. I had a different sized step, stride, and gait on each side of my body.
After I took inventory of my body, I created a motion map and a series of walking and standing exercises that would align and connect my movement and motion to and through the midline of my body. I started my Motion Rehab 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. I began a movement and motion journal to chart my progress each month.
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 from being overloaded 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.
In martial arts I had been taught to build a foundation to execute movement and motion that aligned and connected. I understood that the two sides of my body needed to be rebuilt together for them to relearn how to work together again to balance, load and unload the weight of my body and support and maintain the alignment and curvature of my spine.
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 and you’ve connected your motion and movement and put flow in your go.
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.
If you walk upright and maintain your body's natural alignment with your feet contacting the ground from heel to toe and your head aligned and centered between your shoulders and the palms of your hands facing your thighs as you walk 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 or onto a cane or a crutch handle 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 contact the ground from heel to toe and engage your core muscles and your become weaker and more bent over with time because of the way you're walking to maintain balance.
Learning to walk again
When I started learning how to walk 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 you have a larger visual field, faster cognitive processing speed and 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 contact 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, a wet or slippery surface, 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 from the nerve damage done in the accident to my leg.
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. I kept adapting and modifying the exercises and the motion map that were part of my rehab plan. I used the cane that I invented to do foot and leg exercises and to slowly and gently stretch the muscles in my legs and feet.
I understood the day I started relearning how to walk that it didn't matter how strong I once was or what I could do up until the day of the accident. The only thing that mattered was how I was going to rebuild a strong enough foundation to generate movement and momentum that connected and could put flow back in my go again to maintain the alignment and curvature of my spine. My daily rehab plan that I developed and kept adapting allowed my broken, twisted body to regain over time its natural alignment with my hip, knee, and ankle joints aligned and working together as pairs to load and unload the weight of my body over my feet from heel to toe. My core muscles especially the ones between my neck and waist and in-between my shoulders that supported my spine grew stronger and stronger month after month as did the alignment of my damaged 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 physician 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 didn’t have the same proportions as the foot and couldn't support or maintain balance and the vertical stability of my foot or my body . That the crutches were forcing my arms and head to be positioned in front of the rest of my body when I walked to maintain balance creating injury and secondary 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 using your arm or arms and lean forward or to one side onto a cane handle or walking stick handle to maintain balance without creating physical injury and disability throughout your entire body. That no one had ever created, maintained or regained physical function and ability by continuously forcing the body to be misaligned and moved in ways that traditional mobility devices force the body to be aligned and moved.
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 crutches, canes, walkers and walking sticks and use your knowledge of human biomechanics to build a new kind of mobility devices. Ones that can maintain alignment and help you and other people regain an upright, stable walking gait.
Inventing a better cane
I started creating my mobility devices by visualizing how to align and move an injured or disabled body in a way that would maintain the body's stability and natural alignment.
When I wasn’t thinking about how to position my steps to engage my core muscles and create physical ability from my physical disability during my daily working walks. I was thinking about how to invent and build a new kind of cane, crutch, and other mobility devices that would support, maintain and align balance, stability, and upright posture.
After I invented the 3rd Foot Cane I would use two of the them to do standing core strengthening and stretching exercise. I did that to offload the overloaded right side of my body and reload the underloaded left side. Helping the two sides of my body to relearn how to work together again to balance, load and unload the weight of my body over and on my feet. 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 when walking forward, backward and when turning.
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 helped gently 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. I don't have pain in my spine or in my shoulder. As of April 15th, of 2019 I'd walked 4,514 miles on my daily working walks.
I walk normally today and without a cane despite the prognosis I was given because of great surgeons and the cane that I invented, used, and patented that allowed me and now others like me to redevelop a normal step, stride, and upright walking gait by keeping the body aligned as designed.
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.
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 included 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
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 and others pending in the United States and abroad and additional improved mobility items being developed that keep the body Aligned as Designed.