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Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Stroke victim first in Alabama to use new technology to walk again

Billy Lemaster is living proof of a new technology that has kickstarted his ability to walk again after suffering two strokes.

In March, Lemaster became the first person in Alabama to use the new technology. Calls started coming in to the Lemasters and to their daughter, Shay Wisener, who found the patented device on the internet. One couple came from Florida to see it and try it out.

It’s a big topic of conversation at TherapyPlus North where Lemaster and his wife Carolyn work out every morning. He encourages others to try it and hopes it will help many people.

“I feel comfortable with it,” Lemaster says of the Kickstart brace he wears on his left leg. “I feel stable. Before, when I stood up, I felt like I was going to fall. This stopped that.”

Previous braces had proved unsuccessful for Lemaster. When Wisener, an employee at TherapyPlus, discovered Kickstart on the Internet, she contacted the company for more information.

“It was the maker of the brace who contacted me right back,” Wisener recalls. “He said it was meant to be because the very next week he would be visiting Alabama for the first time.  He himself brought the Kickstart for dad to try.”

As soon as he put it on Lemaster could tell an immediate difference.

“He hadn’t been able to get up without assistance in a long time,” she says.

How does it work?

It was the legs of a horse that inspired Kickstart’s inventor to design a brace that mimics those long and powerful tendons, and uses spring-based technology to encourage proper walking. According to the website for Cadence Biomedical, maker of Kickstart, the wearable rehabilitation device stabilizes the hip and leg while using power from an “exotendon” to gently lift and move the leg through a safe, guided and proper step. In addition to stroke victims, the technology can help those with spinal cord injuries and other neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.


Lemaster compares the look of the brace to a compound bow with its pulleys and cables. A ratchet near his hip bone controls the tension on a cable that leads to a spring near his calf, which helps him pull his foot upward. The custom-made device is molded specifically for his foot.  He says he can tell a big difference even when he takes the brace off.

“I can pick up my leg a lot better,” he says. “Eventually it gets to dragging.”

Billy's story

Lemaster had the first stroke in 2011 and the second exactly two years later. He and the family were at the beach when he woke up with a headache. He became very tired on the drive home, he recalls. When they got home, Lemaster couldn’t lift his leg to get out of the car. The following morning, he couldn’t lift his arm and finally went to the hospital, where he stayed three and a half weeks.

He had made a lot of progress with his recovery when the second stroke hit. This time Lemaster was home alone when he realized he couldn’t lift his arm to open the refrigerator. He waited for Carolyn to get home to go to the hospital, where he stayed for two and half weeks.

“It really knocked me back,” he says, affecting his speech and leaving him weak on his left side.

Born and raised in Albertville, Lemaster, 67, lives on Georgia Mountain, home of the Stoney Mountain Golf Course he has owned for the past 15 years. Previously he worked for a Pennsylvania company travelling and buying golf courses. He had been a longtime golfer at Stoney Mountain when he got a chance to buy it.

“I never wanted to retire,” he recalls. “I love weed-eating and mowing there. I played golf every other day.”

Although he can’t do those things any more, he can still mow his yard, drive a car and fish. He fishes with his brother who helps him climb in and out of the boat.

“I can still fish as good as I ever could,” he says.

Lemaster has been a regular at TherapyPlus since his first stroke. Carolyn retired in December from teaching special education at Evans Elementary and now the two start every morning with a workout there. Lemaster has nothing but praise for his physical therapist, Jessica Martin.

“She’s something else, you better believe it,” he says.

She also speaks highly of her patient.

“He works hard,” Martin says of Lemaster. When he started therapy, he had to have two people to help him walk or he had to sit in a wheelchair and be pushed. From there, he progressed to needing only one person to help him. He then became able to use a walker and then a cane. Since getting Kickstart, he’s advanced to walking on his own, she says.

“Even with a stroke, the more you work at it, the better results you get,” Martin says.   
 Wisener, one of the Lemasters’ two daughters, says her dad also benefits from the way the brace helps him rise from a seated position.

“He can pop up out of a chair,” she says.

Carolyn stresses that stroke victims improve at their own rate. She has watched her husband gradually get better. Though everyone wants it to happen quickly, she advises patience.

“It’s not a quick fix,” she says of the Kickstart. “It’s a training tool to assist with the process. With a stroke, it just takes a long time. It’s still a lengthy process.”

Still, she’s thankful of the progress her husband of 50 years has made.

“We’re very fortunate,” she says. “It could have been a lot worse.”

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