In 1997, Kevin and Rhonda Maher gave birth to a little girl, Mackenzie. Born three months premature, Mackenzie was diagnosed with severe spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and given a prognosis of a life hindered by severe disabilities.
Refusing to accept that this was an inevitable outcome, the Mahers were determined to do everything they could to improve the quality of life for their daughter. Soon, the Maher family became fully invested and immersed in an intensive at-home therapy program.
At age 4-1/2, Mackenzie was struggling with many challenges brought on by cerebral palsy, specifically, her balance. Mackenzie's therapists advised the Mahers that vestibular stimulation therapy in the form of chair spins, log rolls, and somersaults every day might help.
Mackenzie age 3, propped up for the photo.
Mackenzie age 6
There had to be a better way.
In theory, vestibular stimulation therapy made sense: to improve balance, you must engage in activities that stimulate and challenge it. Unfortunately, Mackenzie was not capable of performing any of the exercises on her own, so the Mahers had to provide the motion-induced stimulation for her. The family did their best, however, after several weeks of back-breaking therapy sessions involving tumbling and rolling Mackenzie around on the floor, the therapy had to be discontinued because it was just too difficult to accomplish.
"Necessity is the mother of invention." ---Plato
Realizing they had to find a safer and more efficient way for providing Mackenzie with vestibular stimulation, Kevin and Rhonda searched extensively for therapy equipment that could provide a solution, but soon discovered no such device existed.
Kevin, with 20 years of experience working with robotic systems, became determined to engineer a solution. He was certain that the difficulties of administering motion-induced vestibular stimulation could be overcome if he could figure out a way to safely secure Mackenzie in a chair that could be rotated upside down and all around. Using a sheet of plywood, a child's car seat, and various items of hardware, he designed and built a device that provided the safe, controllable, and efficient motion-induced vestibular stimulation that Mackenzie needed. Unknown to him at that time, he had just invented the GyroStim.
From the very first therapy session, the new device was a success. In a short period of time, Mackenzie's balance while creeping on her hands and knees showed significant signs of improvement. Even more surprisingly, Mackenzie began making unexpected gains in other areas such as gross and fine motor skills, trunk control, even her energy level, mood, and speech were improving at a faster rate. It became apparent that the motion-induced vestibular stimulation had triggered a cascade of additional gains well beyond the intended purpose of balance improvement.
Mackenzie's daily at-home therapy program, which included a wide range of physical and cognitive therapies, were certainly beneficial, however, the addition of the stimulation from her father’s invention was the catalyst, the missing piece of the puzzle, enabling rapid gains in balance and other abilities.
Inspired by Mackenzie's progress, Kevin continued improving the design of the rotating chair. Soon, Mackenzie's extraordinary gains, and the capabilities and potential applications of the rotating device caught the attention of Mackenzie's therapists and doctors. Their affirmation reinforced Kevin's decision to take a leap of faith and move forward with the launch of a new company, UltraThera Technologies and its new product, the GyroStim.
Soon after the company was formed, the United States Air Force Academy was introduced to the technology and purchased the first GyroStim. The second system was purchased by the Mayo Clinic Aerospace Medical Vestibular Research Laboratory, and many additional sales for clinical and research applications would soon follow.
Since then, GyroStim technology and methodology have progressed along an evolutionary path driven by a passion to pursue advancements in clinical applications, human performance, and quality of life.
Today, GyroStim has FDA-clearance and is designated by the FDA as a Breakthrough Medical Device. Systems are located in the US and 8 other countries around the world in health clinics, sports training centers, research labs, military facilities, and universities.
UltraThera headquarters is located at the foot of Pikes Peak in downtown Colorado Springs, CO, with research, development, and manufacturing located in Golden, CO.
Mackenzie, the inspiration for GyroStim, has overcome many of the challenges associated with her original diagnosis and prognosis. In fact, she has completed her Master’s Degree in Psychological Science from the University of Denver and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Science at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, CO.
She is tenacious, courageous, spirited, compassionate, and faithful to God. She is dedicated to pursuing a life of scientific research: passionate about applying her personal experiences of growing up and living with cerebral palsy to discovering new and improved interventions that will one day improve the quality of life for others with disabilities.