SMITHVILLE, Mo. — Lisa Poehlman stood in her living room, balancing on a piece of foam in her bare feet while she held a small medical device known as Pons between her lips.
As a reporter watched, she went through a series of exercises that she does for 20 minutes each day. Poehlman said the daily routine has helped her regain her life after a traumatic brain injury.
“I felt like for a long time I was dead,” said Poehlman, who was so severely impacted by the injury she was forced to quit her job as a registered nurse.
Poehlman, who is now in her late 60s, had been on an airplane when she was smacked in the head by a metal pole that fell out of an overhead bin.
“When I woke up, I was in North Kansas City Hospital, and I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea that a week had passed,” she said.
She also didn’t know how much her life would change.
“My speech, my cognition, my ability to walk, my vision, everything,” she said was affected.
With the help of multiple specialists and a lot of therapy, she was able to regain many functions, but there were still barriers, particularly with her balance, that made driving and even showering difficult.
She’d almost given up hope of ever getting her life back when she was invited to participate in a two-week blinded study of a new device calls Pons. Dr. Mitchell Tyler was leading the study, which took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The term I have heard people use at the end of the study two, even three years later is ‘that I got my life back,'” Tyler said.
Simply put, the Pons device vibrates your tongue while you do a series of exercises. Poehlman said it feels like champagne bubbles.
Tyler said the device stimulates the trigeminal and facial nerve on the tongue, which project right into the brain stem. He said that stimulation makes the brain more receptive to therapy.
Pohelman said her family immediately noticed the difference with her speech, and she was able to drive again.
But after the trial ended and she was no longer able to use the yet-to-be-FDA-approved device, Poehlman said she began to see some of the progress she had made slip away.
So she flew to Russia, the only country at that time where the device could be purchased. She bought one and has been using it ever since.
Last March, the Pons device was finally FDA approved, but only for people with multiple sclerosis.
As far as traumatic brain injuries, the FDA ruled there wasn’t enough evidence from the clinical trial to prove it was the device and not the therapy each person received that made the difference.
Canada, however, has approved the device for traumatic brain injury survivors. The device plus a training program costs about $30,000.
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