One VA employee had a productive first week on the job. Ebony Dillard, a physical therapy assistant at Augusta VA, observed that patients who experience falls often have limited strength in their lower extremities due to conditions such as stroke, incomplete spinal cord injury or vestibular impairment. So she designed a “device for gait, efficiency and balance,” or DEB, to help prevent Veteran falls.

“Currently, there is nothing to assist patients to keep their feet apart while they build up the lower extremity strength,” said Dillard, who approached VA Augusta’s innovation specialist during her new employee orientation. “I named it after my mother, Debbie. I am who I am because of how my mom raised me, and I wanted to make sure she was a part of it.”

Veteran using DEB device to prevent falls

Veteran Charles Potter using the DEB device

Dillard applied for the local innovation program and received unanimous support to develop her idea locally. She collaborated with the Augusta VA physical therapy team to create multiple prototypes, improving its function with the help of human-centered design.

Focusing on human needs first

“Human-centered design is a methodology we use to solve problems by focusing on human needs first,” said Kelsey Shull, innovation specialist and VHA Innovators Network human-centered design lead. “Matching people’s needs and developing solutions with what is technologically feasible and viable can lead to innovation.”

Dillard perfected her design by measuring all aspects of a Veteran’s walk. Along the way, she tried different techniques and listened to Veterans and their family members as to what felt most comfortable. As the prototypes evolved, so did the Veteran’s walking distance.

Will pilot falls prevention device at other VA medical centers

The VA innovation community recently acknowledged the potential impact of Dillard’s work for Veteran care, naming it the top innovation project across the VA Southeast Network in September. In addition, DEB was awarded a provisional patent.

Dillard applied for the 2023 VA Spark-Seed-Spread employee investment program where she will continue to refine her functional prototype with the guidance of VA national offices and health care innovation experts. She will eventually implement a pilot program to spread her design to other VA medical centers throughout the country.

To learn more about VHA Innovators Network, visit https://www.innovation.va.gov/ecosystem/views/innovators-network/innovators-network.html.

By Megan Kon

Public affairs specialist, Augusta VA

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Published on Sep. 26, 2022

Estimated reading time is 2 min.

Views to date: 9,144

11 Comments

  1. Sheila Herbermann October 3, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    My husband is a Vietnam veteran with Parkinson’s. Medicine has helped. He has a walker but gait is still one of his many issues. Falls still happen. Have you used this with Parkinson’s patients yet?
    If not, how can he come to you to try?

    • Ebony Dillard October 4, 2022 at 9:37 am

      Good morning, we are still in the earlier stages and will begin testing it at our local VA by the end of Nov beginning of Dec. We are in Augusta GA. I have not used it on Parkinson’s patients yet, but have used it on stroke patients and patients with overall general weakness. I also worked with a patient that has polymyositis.

  2. Arnold “Earl” Cheal September 29, 2022 at 10:35 am

    Great idea.

  3. Mary McGinnis September 27, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    My hope and prayers are that this will become available for those like who after a stroke has fallen and getting big knots and being unconscious too. My husband is a disabled vet and he and I thank you for your service to vets.

    • John Richardson September 28, 2022 at 11:34 pm

      My wife is 82 and has scissor gait. This may help her. She has fallen 5 times. I am near Las Vegas VA Hospital. Thanks Ebony!!!

      • Ebony Dillard October 4, 2022 at 9:40 am

        Good Morning, we are in the early stages of testing, but hopefully will be sending it out next Nov/Dec to other VA that request to be a site for testing. I was born and raised on Las Vegas lol. Very nice VA hospital out there.

  4. Richard Reich September 27, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    Very interested. I am in San Antonio Texas. Will these come to Audie Murphy VA Hospital

    • Ebony Dillard October 4, 2022 at 9:41 am

      I believe San Antonio requested to be a Spread site and that would be a focal point next Nov/Dec

  5. Mikael Snitker September 27, 2022 at 1:41 pm

    This is a truly outstanding story of innovation taking place to help veterans, and the support of staff to be creative. I love the acronym, DEB, and the story with it, which is inspiring–I’m sharing the innovation with my contacts.

  6. Sabino A Corona September 27, 2022 at 9:51 am

    HOPE IT CAN,HELP ME FROM FALLING, AND ESPECIALLY BALANCE PROBLEMS WITH HAS CAUSED ME INJURIES ETC. VERY INTERESTED.

  7. Dave Ling September 26, 2022 at 5:48 pm

    I was immediately drawn to the article about the DEB device. I have continual problems falling when I stand up out of my wheelchair (mostly backwards). I have access to VHA service and don’t know if this treatable by either VA or MEDICARE (private). I’m now seeing help on the horizon.

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