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Astronaut visits Valley hospital patients

Astronaut Rick Linnehan watches a patient use a Litegate machine. (Bob McClay/KTAR)

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.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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