PITTSBURG — One of the newest pieces of medical equipment at Via Christi Hospital has the potential to reduce pain and rehabilitation times for patients while helping area residents heal more quickly.

Clayton Kent, director of rehabilitation services at Via Christi, said the anti-gravity treadmill represents nearly a $50,000 investment on the part of the hospital's Mount Carmel Foundation.

"It will be used for a variety of purposes," Kent told members of the foundation's board of directors on hand for demonstrations of the treadmill. "People who've had total joint replacement, amputees, patients with ACL repairs and even stroke patients will benefit."

The anti-gravity treadmill can be used on these and many other lower body injuries and treatments, he said.

Kent said the hospital's outpatient physical therapy center staff started looking for an alternative to a pool. Water rehab services are often used to reduce stress and relieve pressure for rehabilitation services.

The facility could not house such a treatment pool, he said. The anti-gravity treadmill allows patients to recovery faster by having the ability to start rehabilitation at the equivalent of a lower percentage of body weight, Kent said.

An air-tight bladder secured on the patient from the waist down simulates a loss of gravity similar to what space travelers experience, he said. 

"That reduces pain and the risk of additional injury," he said. "The treadmill basically 'unweighs' you."

"If, say, you reduce your body weight by 50 percent you can workout longer, get in more repetitions and extend the session as long as three times what you would get in normally," he said.

Which translates into a quicker, less painful recovery, Kent said.

The machine can in effect reduce a person's body weight by up to 80 percent. 

Johanna Norton, executive director of the Mount Carmel Foundation, said the organization's investment in the anti-gravity treadmill represents only about half of the funds the group has pumped back into Via Christi Hospital and its services.

"The foundation has funded more than $100,000 in projects in the past year," Norton said. From grants to a variety of departments at the hospital to replacing equipment and providing unique educational experiences for staffer, the foundation has stepped up, she said.

The foundation's major fundraising event of the year will be Saturday night when it hosts the Mount Carmel Foundation 32nd Annual Gala. The event focuses on a fun evening for participants with a theme of "Outrageously Alice," but Norton said the longterm impact is on improved health care for the community.

"The Mount Carmel Foundation provides a lot of support to the hospital but this community really comes through in supporting the foundation," Norton said. "The people of Southeast Kansas really step up to help."

The next big project for the foundation is to secure 3D mammography technology with the goal of improving Via Christi technology and saving lives, she said.

— Mike Elswick is a staff writer for The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at melswick@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ mike_elswick.