If you wear AFOs, then you know how frustrating shoe shopping can be. Since the Helios are wider than my old plastic AFOs, I had to find shoes to wear, other than the pair of New Balance tennis shoes I’ve been wearing for the past six months.
If you don’t know about Zappos, they are an online shoe store where you can find any type of shoe you are looking for. What I especially like about Zappos is the free shipping and free returns, which means I can have as many shoes sent to me as I want, and return the ones that don’t fit, all for free. Plus you can find shoes in wider sizes, to accomodate the AFOs.Out of the 5 pairs I received, all of them fit, but two worked out really well, which is a miracle when it comes to fitting AFOs. The two pair I am keeping are the Cobb Hill black mary janes on the left, and also the black Earth shoes with laces, in the middle of the photo. I guess it’s no surprise the Cobb Hill shoes worked out, since they are a part of the New Balance family. Thank you Zappos and New Balance!
Prior to booking my appointment at Ortho Rehab Designs to be fitted for Helios, I checked my health insurance coverage and discovered the Helios would not be covered since they were out of network. I called BCBS network exception department and asked for a case to be opened and reviewed for pre-approval. After asking me a few questions, along with contacting the provider (Ortho Rehab Designs) and asking for more information on the Helios, I was informed the Helios were pre-approved and would be covered as an ‘in network’ claim under my insurance!
If you want the Helios and they aren’t covered under your health insurance plan, don’t be afraid to call your health insurance company and ask for an exception. They can say “no’ but they can also say “YES” too!
I had to send back the Helios to ORD for some minor adjustments. Almost two weeks without the Helios was not fun, but I knew the adjustments would be worth it.
I asked for the following adjustments to my Helios:
- Remove the thick padding in the knee shell and replace with a thin layer. When I left Vegas, the padding was layered heavy due to rubbing and irritation on my legs. The Helios were hitting parts of my legs my old afos never touched. You can see in the below photo how thick the padding was. I also wanted the padding thinned so the afos would sit closer to my leg and not be so noticeable when wearing jeans. (this cost me $100 per brace which I don’t necessarily agree with).
- Lower the height of the knee plate by a total of 1/2”. The Helios were pinching the skin of my knees when I walked, making for a not so perfect fit. In the past month I was wearing an additional insert between my foot and the Helios so the Helios would sit lower on my leg. I tested this method to see which fit was better. The Helios as they were? Or the modification with the additional insole? (this adjustment was no charge)
When I first made the request for adjustments, I received a little resistance stating “everything done originally to the Helios was done for a reason”. If you know me, you know I didn’t settle for that answer. I wore the Helios for 5 months to make sure I needed the adjustments and I knew what was best for me and wanted to have the modifications completed. During the week in Vegas, the adjustments are made on the final Friday of the appointment. Maybe that isn’t the best time for “final” mods. Everything is so new, there is pain in places that hadn’t experienced pain and rubbing on the legs where no afo had been previously. At that time, you don’t really know what is pain due to the newness or pain due to fit.
Here is a before photo showing the thick padding and where the Helios were hitting my knees.
Wearing my old afos for almost 2 weeks made me realize just how bad they really are.
- Wearing Helios, my gait is normal. I am able to walk heal to toe; whereas in the plastic afos, my foot still slapped a little when I walked.
- Wearing Helios, my stride is longer. Wearing the old afos, my stride is half of that while wearing the Helios. I feel like I glide across the floor now.
- Wearing Helios, I no longer have hyperextension in my knees. With the old plastic afos, my knees were hyperextending when I walk. I would lay in bed at night and my knees would bother me. I really thought I would need some type of knee surgery. Since wearing the Helios, I have not experienced the knee pain.
- Wearing Helios, I no longer feel fatigued after walking short distances. The Helios are energy storing and I have a spring in my step now. I actually feel like walking and no longer look for the shortest route to my destination. I am excited to walk.
- Wearing Helios, I no longer trip over small cracks when walking. With my previous afos, I was always tripping and I would have to look at the ground when walking to make sure my feet would clear any small obstacles that might appear. Now, I can view what is infront of me, rather than what is beneath me.
- Wearing Helios, my balance has improved 100%. I am able to stand in one place without touching anything to keep my balance. Wearing the old plastic afos, I had to always rely on touching something for stability. Now, I can stand on the curb and wait for a walk signal without feeling like I am going to lose my balance and fall into oncoming traffic.
- Wearing Helios, my posture has improved. I am no longer hunched over, with my weight bearing forward. My back and shoulders do not experience pain.
So, for those physicians and insurance companies that believe another carbon fiber afo would be satisfactory for me and I should go to a provider in network, I beg to differ. Plus, is “satisfactory” really what I deserve?
One great change I’ve experienced while wearing the Helios is the ability to stand still without touching anything for stability. Now, when I stop to talk to someone, I still catch myself touching a wall or chair for support, but I quickly remember I no longer need to do that. Sometimes, when I’m at home, I’ll just stand in the middle of the living room and Jerry will say, “Why are you standing there?” and my answer is, “Because I can”.
As I was walking out the door from work this evening, two people walked past me, headed in the same direction as my parked car. Since I have a 3 block walk to my car, I decided to see if I could keep pace with them. Here is the beginning distance between us.
Before Helios, when someone would walk past me, they would outwalk me and would travel about twice the distance I could, in the same amount of time.
Well, not today. After 3 blocks, they didn’t gain any distance on me.
I KEPT UP!
3 weeks later and I drove on the highway! No changing afos to drive home from work.
A little back story. During the bruised knee period, I was able to put the Helios on and take them out for a quick test drive, with Jerry in the car for support. The drive went okay, although the pedals were not as easy to feel as with my old afos. I only drove around town and not on the highway. This past weekend, I went out by myself and drove to the grocery store in the Helios. Ok, not so bad. I did pretty good. So today, I drove to work with “my driving foot” and changed to the Helios when I got to work. I had some running around to do in Boulder, so I kept on the Helios and drove around town. Once again, it went okay. I also did alot of walking around Boulder today and it is so nice to be super speedy when walking.
After work, I decided I would try to wear the Helios on the 25 mile drive home. If necessary, I could always pull off on an exit and switch back to my driving foot. Well, the drive went just fine and there was no need to pull over and switch out afos. yay! I feel like I’ve just hit a milestone!
The shoes did make a difference. The New Balance have more support than my Puma and Asics sneakers. Week #3 came and I was feeling pretty good; although I was still switching between my old afos and the Helios, mainly using the old afos to drive and wearing the Helios at work. My hip flexors are no longer making the clicking noise when I walk and my knees are adjusting to the front portion of the Helios. It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting better. I still struggle going up and down stairs. I’ve learned it is easier to go up the stairs while on my tip toes. I am also adjusting to the fact my ankles do not move when wearing the Helios which makes bending over a bit more difficult.
During my 4th week with the Helios, we were off to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. We drove from Denver to OKC and I wore the Helios the entire time. I only took my right afo in case I needed to drive (I refer to the right plastic afo as “my driving foot”). About 9 hrs into the drive, we must’ve ran over something in the road because there was a thump, and one of the tires quickly went flat. By this time, it was dark and nothing was open since it was the night before Thanksgiving, so we pulled over on the side of the highway to change the flat tire (well, Jerry changed the tire while I stood watch for out of control cars). I was standing on the side of the highway, in the dark, on a grassy incline, watching the oncoming traffic. Wait a minute, I was actually standing still and able to keep my balance while standing on this uneven surface. No wobbling, no holding onto something. Yes!
Back in Denver, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I was walking on my hardwood floors in my socks. I slipped and down I went, banging my right knee onto the floor. A few days later, my knee began to bruise slightly, but the unfortunate part was the front of the Helios now hit the bruise and it became extremely uncomfortable to walk in the Helios. So, it was back to the old plastic afos. I wouldn’t be able to wear the Helios until the bruise had healed. An entire 3 weeks passed before I could wear the Helios again.
Ok, I admit I didn’t wear the Helios much over the weekend, but I figured I would get back into it them on Monday. Well, Monday came and I worked from home, so I didn’t wear the Helios that day either.
Tuesday was business as usual. I drove to work wearing my old afos and switched into the Helios for my walk into work. Ooops, I forgot the small little rubber pad I was given to put under the heel of the Helios to help correct my gait. Well, I didn’t think it would matter too much, but I was wrong. I could definitely tell a difference and felt a little pain in my walk, but muscled through it and was able to wear the Helios the entire day. I had to switch back to the old afos for the walk back to the car and the drive home.
Wednesday and Thursday, I wore the Helios on the walk in, during work, and then the walk back to the car. They are definitely feeling better and I now only have a minor clicking noise in my hip flexor and knee when I walk, just on the right side. I’ve had this all along, but it is much better than it was in the beginning.
Thursday evening my legs weren’t nearly as fatigued as they have been on previous nights after work. I guess I’m working muscles that haven’t been worked before and now they are finally getting used to the workout. I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work and for the first time, I wished I was wearing the Helios. It’s nice to have a near normal walk, instead of my foot smacking down when I walk. My stride is also longer and not as tiring.
I realize I now need a shoe size half larger than previously, so this weekend I went shoe shopping and found a pair of New Balance I can live with. I’ll try wearing the NB this week and see if I notice any differences.