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Astronaut visits Valley hospital patients

PHOENIX — Patients of St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix had a visitor from outer space Wednesday morning. Well, sort of.

Astronaut Rick Linnehan visited the hospital’s Neuro Rehab Center to promote NASA’s Destination Station Awareness Campaign.

“It’s a NASA project that’s tied in with the Fiesta Bowl Commission and the Challenger Centers here in Phoenix and all over the country and emphasizes education,” said Linnehan.

St. Joseph’s Doctor Christina Kwasnica, one of the nation’s top experts in physical- and neurorehabilitation, treats patients with the most serious and complex brain and spinal cord injuries. She described a therapy machine that a patient was exercising on while talking with Linnehan.

“It’s actually called a Litegate,” said Kwasnica. “It’s a way of taking body weight off of somebody and helping them walk on a treadmill. The original robotic-associated device like this actually came from the space program. This is a much easier-to-use device than that but it allows patients who can’t fully support themselves to work on walking and walking correctly.”

Linnehan said that Litegate is similar to the zero-gravity training that the astronauts get. He said that a lot of the same things that happen to astronauts mimic a lot of the neurological and muscular skeletal problems that older people have problems with.

“We can use a lot of what we learn in space with the astronauts, in terms of muscle and bone, to bring it back and help people here on the ground,” he said.

Both NASA and the hospital said the machine is one way of showing how the space program helps people here on Earth.