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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Madonna’s Institute teams up with UNO researchers for stroke study

May 19, 2023

Researchers from Madonna’s Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering and the University of Nebraska-Omaha are collaborating to provide greater mobility for people who are recovering from a stroke. The research study, which kicks off this month, aims to address how high-intensity gait training after a stroke leads to better outcomes. High-intensity gait training is a walking and stepping practice that keeps up the heart rate over a certain target level.

Judith M. Burnfield, Ph.D., PT, the vice president of research at the Institute and co-lead of the study, believes this collaboration complements Madonna’s ongoing body of research on stroke rehabilitation.

“Our research over the past decade has focused heavily on identifying optimal ways to physiologically challenge patients during gait rehabilitation,” Burnfield noted. “This work is essential to refining understanding of those most likely to benefit from high-intensity gait training during the early period following a stroke. Findings from this work are expected to help guide future rehabilitation aimed at maximizing functional recovery during this critical period.”

Brian Knarr, an associate professor within UNO’s Department of Biomechanics and co-lead on the study, agreed.

“There is growing evidence that high-intensity gait training can be more effective than other approaches to movement training, but not much is known about how this training can be used most effectively during the early phase of recovery, when rehabilitation can be most effective,” he said.

Emily Steffensen, a graduate research assistant at UNO, is spearheading this study as part of her doctoral studies. Graduate student colleagues joining her in this endeavor include Erica Hinton, Oluwaseye Odanye, Sheridan Parker, Lindsey Remski, and Abby Meier. Meanwhile, Madonna’s clinical research team includes Dr. Samuel Bierner, medical director of acute rehabilitation in Omaha; Cali Carlson, DPT; Ryan Knight, DPT; Amy Goldman, DPT; Michala Heuber, DPT; Kassi Pichler, DPT; Jessica Onsager, DPT; and Arash M. Gonabadi, Ph.D., the assistant director at Madonna’s Institute.

Patients in Madonna’s CARF-accredited inpatient stroke program who are in the early stages of their recovery and experiencing walking challenges are eligible to participate in the study. Following Madonna’s established high-intensity gait training approach, these participants will utilize specialized technology at Madonna’s Research Institute. The team will then assess their walking and fitness levels and combine these findings with information regarding patients’ training activities to help guide rehabilitation best practices and improve outcomes for future stroke patients.

“This collaboration between Madonna and UNO Biomechanics is an important step to translating research from the lab to real-world clinical settings, and we hope that this partnership is just the beginning for how UNO and Madonna can continue to work together on ways to improve the lives of people who have experienced a stroke,” Knarr said.

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