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Wellness & Prevention

Physical therapist Jason Walters works with a patient to help regain his balance.

Finding your balance

New local Balance Center offers treatment options for vertigo and other balance-related conditions
Bethany Hubbard
Contributing writer
Physical therapist Jason Walters works with a patient to help regain his balance.

Mary Haas was left with debilitating vertigo after a car accident in April. She found it difficult to concentrate at work and go about her daily activities.

“When I lay down to go to sleep at night, I would look over at the alarm clock and it would be bouncing from the vertigo,” she said. “It got more pronounced, and I thought I had a brain tumor.”

So the 62-year-old Portage Park resident visited Swedish Covenant Hospital. After ruling out neurological problems, her primary care physician Dr. Vaidotas Petrus and her otolaryngologist Dr. Daoud Nissan worked together and referred her to the hospital’s new Balance Center, which opened in June.

Mary began to work with physical therapist Jason Walters in the Balance Center, which is located at Galter LifeCenter, a medical fitness center on the hospital’s campus.

She saw dramatic improvements in only four sessions using the center’s innovative equipment, including special goggles that project the patient’s eyes onto a screen for the therapist to evaluate.

“As he moved me in various positions, I would get vertigo, and he could see on the screen that my eyes were shaking,” she said. “He could tell that I was about to get dizzy before I knew I was going to get dizzy.”

The Balance Center was opened to meet the needs of an increasing number of patients, particularly older adults, who are at risk of falling, said Richard Cunningham, director of Outpatient Rehabilitation at the hospital. 

“A lot of patients were having falls at home, but weren’t coming to us,” Cunningham said. “We were reaching them eventually because they were coming in with different diagnoses, such as a shoulder issue because of a fall. We realized that these incidents mostly started with balance issues.”

Cunningham and his team also strive to help a broader range of balance-impaired people.

“A patient could be a young athlete who has had his ACL repaired, somebody who has inner-ear dizziness problems, someone who has had a stroke, or somebody who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease,” he said.

The Balance Center’s therapists provide evaluations, treatments, retraining and biofeedback to patients. In addition to the goggles, equipment in the center includes a LiteGait treadmill and a Nintendo Wii.

“The Wii is a great biofeedback tool as well as an interactive exercise game,” Cunningham said. “It can really benefit the patients because they’re playing a game, but also using their balance to control the game.”

For many patients, the Balance Center offers an opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment. Mary also benefited from at-home therapy, where she did daily exercises to further her recovery.

Today she is fully recovered.

“It was effective,” she said. “It was kind of neat to have those goggles on. I had no clue that it would work.”
Although the Balance Center has only been open for a few months, Cunningham already has plans for the future, including a concussion management program that could help local soldiers suffering from combat-related injuries, as well as athletes involved in collision sports like football and hockey .

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