Woody H. Interview

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Woody was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy 8 years ago, when he was 72 years old. In addition to causing progressively worsening pain in his feet, the condition caused his balance and mobility to decline. He was skeptical about BalanceWear when he first heard about it, making him all the more amazed when he tried the vest on for the first time.

What is peripheral neuropathy? What does it feel like to you?

It started out like I didn’t know anything that was going on around my feet – my feet were not sensing things correctly. Eventually it dawned on me maybe there was a problem there. I let it ride because I thought it was just age catching up with me, but then the pain came. I went to pain management at Kaiser. They diagnosed the peripheral neuropathy and put me on Lyrica.

It progressively got worse. The Lyrica took care of the shocks of pain that would come through my feet, but I began to notice that my balance wasn’t very good. Some days I could walk quite well; other days I would stumble a little bit for no good reason. In the house I could be walking down the hall and bounce into the wall a little bit. According to my doctor, my problem is never going to get better. All we can do is try to control it so it doesn’t get worse quicker.

How did you hear about BalanceWear?

A friend told me about BalanceWear and I thought it sounded attractive, but I was very skeptical as to what it was really all about. It’s hard to say to someone “I’ll put a vest on you and put some weights on it and it will help you with your balance.” I would go “yeah, sure!”

What was your BalanceWear fitting session like? What was your initial reaction to BalanceWear?

My friend arranged for me to meet with Cindy down in Irvine because she was conducting a workshop there. Next thing I know, she’s got this vest on me with some things attached to it, and then I’m walking around! I was very skeptical about it at first, and that’s why I was absolutely amazed when I was first fitted. I went “Woah! What’s happening here?” When I came into the place I was wobbling all over and when I left I was walking straight.

Cindy has a video of me – I was like “what have you done to me?!” I was still skeptical. Within an hour or so, when I was walking across the room and back, and someone was on both side of me ready to catch me, and I’m feeling like, “get away from me, you’re distracting me, I can do this on my own.” From then on I was totally convinced and amazed at the change. When I left, all I could think of was to give Cindy a big hug and say thank you. How come somebody didn’t think of this years ago? Maybe they can develop some weights to put on my head so my brain comes back!

Does BalanceWear help you manage the pain in your feet, or do you use it mostly to just help your balance?

The vest is strictly to keep from falling down, tripping over anyone, and embarrassing myself. My bones don’t mend so well at my age – I don’t want a hip replacement or anything like that. So the vest becomes critical in my daily life.

When my balance was bad, coming up to a curb, I had to stop at the curb and turn sideways to step up because it’s easier for me. But with BalanceWear, I can walk right up to a curb and just step up and I’m on the sidewalk without having to worry about bouncing all over. That was one of the first things I noticed. Another was that when I go up or down a series of steps, I have to step and land with both feet, holding onto a rail. But with the vest I can walk up the steps without feeling like I’m going to fall – it’s thrilling. You ought to have seen me in airports. Walking up and down steps – people asking “can I help you?” I’m a man with pride, saying “oh no I can do it” while trying to carry luggage as well.

How has BalanceWear affected the quality of your life? How has it changed the way you think about your condition and your abilities?

That’s difficult to answer at this point because I’ve been wearing this thing for a year or more. It’s just a part of my life now – it’s a part of me. If somebody decided to throw it in the closet and not wear it, that would be their problem. I do my best to wear it when I know that it’s necessary and it does wonders for me.

One of the things I notice is that if I have an occasion to wear the device for the better part of the day, and I take it off, then my balance stays good for many hours. And if I wear it for day after day for a while, and then I take it off for another two or three days, actually my balance stays pretty good for a longer period of time. The longer I wear it, the longer my balance stays good. That’s the way my body responds. It’s a very positive outcome from wearing the vest. It means that I can walk around my home without any problem because I’ve been wearing the vest for some time – it’s really nice. It’s especially nice because there are some disadvantages about wearing the vest – one of them is that depending on the weight placement, it can interfere with comfort in activities like driving. A little bulk in a spot near the vertebrae, pressed against my back by my car seat – it’s a little irritating. The weights that you might have in the front – well, I have a large torso and a belly too. If the weight is down around the belly, that just pushes you out a little too. That only has to do with vanity, not the function.

Another thing that’s great about it: when I’m sitting on a chair without the vest and go to stand up, I’ve found that I have a serious balance problem. But when I’m wearing the vest, I can get up from a couch and I’m not all wobbly. There’s something that happens to me when I change my body from a sitting position to a standing position. Having the vest for some reason changes everything!

I can also actually bend over and pick something up off of the floor and stand back up and not worry about falling over.

And you couldn’t do that before?

I couldn’t do that before – are you kidding me? If I bent over and started to straighten up and didn’t have something to hold onto, I’d be on all fours trying to figure out how to get up. I’d look pretty stupid.

My wife and I go to Scotland a lot. One time we were at Loch Lomond. Beautiful pier. My wife says to me – grab a couple really nice stones and we’ll take them home. So I bent them over to pick up some stones and I – gracefully as possible – fell over on my side. There I was looking like an absolute fool trying to hold onto some rocks and trying to figure out how to stand up at the same time, rolling around on the ground. Today, if I drop something on the floor I can just bend over and pick it up. It’s quite amazing to me.

How often do you wear BalanceWear?

I wear it around the house, but not all the time, because I do a lot of couch potato stuff. I wear it when I’m going to be up for a couple of hours, like if I gotta go to the store.

Because the neuropathy affects my ability to walk distances, I do use a wheelchair sometimes. I wear the device when I have to be standing and moving around and I don’t want to haul down a wheelchair around.

I have a new vest now – the new product is not as uncomfortable. It’s washable, and it doesn’t retain heat. So that’s a great improvement for me because it isn’t something that I have to wear outside of my clothing. My only complaint – and it’s not much of a complaint because of the benefit I get out of it – is about the thickness of the weights. If the weights were thinner, the vest would be more comfortable. Especially when I’m driving. It doesn’t stop me from wearing it though. Even if it were more comfortable I wouldn’t wear it any more than I do; it’s just that I know when I put it on in the car I can feel the pressure on my shoulder blade and it’s irritating. Not to the point where I’d say I’m not gonna wear it anymore. Everything else is going great.

What advice would you give to people who are wondering if BalanceWear might be right for them?

I swear by BalanceWear – it’s an amazing product. I know there must be people out there in worse shape than I am. If it made improvements in me, I imagine it must be able to change other peoples’ lives too.

Occasionally I come across someone who makes a comment about somebody who has lost their balance. And I say, “I’m not going to show you my fat belly but here’s a vest with some weights on it; somebody figures out where to put the weights. I don’t know how it works but it does. If you go on the Internet, look up BalanceWear and you can contact someone to talk to them about it.”

It’s up to the individual to say “it’s worked for you, I want it to work for me.” What’s the phrase – you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink – it’s up to them.

One of the things I constantly do – I don’t care how many doctors I tell about it. I tell as many as I can. Pain management, neurologist, primary care, I tell them about it every time I see them. My primary care physician knows that I wear it because I wear it in the checkups. I talk about it at Kaiser all the time – constantly. I’m always kicking myself for not bringing a little printout with information about what BalanceWear is all about. Hopefully they will share the information with other doctors because I know they must talk to each other. I belong to the Elks Lodge in Thousand Oaks, and they all know that I’m wearing it. I think the word is getting out, that there’s something to help with balance other than canes or walkers. Every time I see someone with a cane but walking without a limp, I think they must have a balance problem and are using a cane for security, and I think they would be happy to hang up their cane!