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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — A piece of equipment that looks and sounds like a typical elliptical machine at the gym is helping people recover from a stroke.

“I enjoy it. It’s a good work out,” said Jon, a 42-year-old bookkeeper who didn’t want to provide his last name.

He had a stroke in May of 2018. “I was at the office. I was working on my computer. And, I felt like I really just needed to lay down and go to sleep.”

He said he felt like the left side of his body was going out on him. Since then, he’s had to relearn how to use his left arm and left hand.

He’s been coming to UnityPoint Health’s West Outpatient Therapy since June and started using the ICARE, which stands for Intelligent Controlled Assistive Rehabilitation Elliptical, a few months ago.

“For Jon, it’s working his whole body and endurance with his upper body and lower body all put together, especially with the tone that he has in his hand,” said Occupational Therapist Esada Mujcic.

The ICARE, which was developed at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and Research Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, has a harness and fully integrated system to assist patients with neuromuscular disorders. “It provides more or less assistance as the patient needs it. If the patient needs more, the harness is able to adjust for that,” said Mujcic.

Mujcic said they use it to help patients with physical disabilities work on normal movement and gait patterns. “There is evidence-based research on it.”

She added, “This is a warm up, and then we do more functional and meaningful things that he is able to replicate at home.”

It’s helping Jon as he continues his therapy twice a week and looks forward to going back to work full-time. “For me, I’m going to go back to bookkeeping. And, I play the piano. That’s my goal. To get back to playing.”

Jon stressed the importance of getting help right away if you think you’re having a stroke, which happens when something blocks off blood flow to the brain.

Use the FAST test to spot symptoms of stroke.

FACE: ask the person to smile and see if one side of the face droops.

ARM: ask the person to raise both arms to see if one drops down.

SPEECH: have the person say a short phrase to check for slurred or strange speech.

TIME: call 9-1-1 right away if any of these occur. You need treatment right away to lower your risk of brain damage, disability or even death.