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Stroke shoe retrains brain

TAMPA, Fla. – Close to 800,000 people suffer a stroke in the United States every year. 

A stroke leaves many patients with a dragging foot. 

"I used to walk three to five miles a day before my stroke, and it would be nice if I could just walk a half a mile," said Diane Hintz, who suffered a stroke.

Hintz is on the right track. She's making strides with a patented portable shoe called the Moterum iStride device. 

The shoe was invented at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where doctors have been working for years to get it just right. They're almost at the finish line.

"It took a lot of math. A lot of engineering, and quite a few different prototypes to get it to work just right," said Kyle Reed, PhD, at the University of South Florida, Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Many stroke patients are left with a limp because of damage to their central nervous system. 

The shoe helps rewire the brain so patients can correct their gait. 

Doctors said the shoe is more effective and cheaper than the typical split-belt treadmill treatment and patients can even take it home.

"The iStride device causes one foot to move backwards while they're walking, and this helps to exaggerate one of the feet so it becomes more asymmetric, especially when they take it off. They have a corrected gait where it's more symmetric afterwards," Reed said. 

The shoe is worn on the patient's "good side," so it forces the bad side to compensate for the irregular walking pattern. So far, the study shows that within four weeks patients can feel a difference. 

"The hope is that if you keep doing this every day you train you get a little more equalized in your step length, and you're going to start walking faster," Reed said.

And that's just what Hintz needs so she can get that pep back in her step. 

USF doctors said typical stroke rehabilitation uses a split-belt treadmill, which is expensive and has to be done in an office setting with trained staff to monitor sessions. 

The iStride could be available to the public in a year.