It’s a small device with big benefits for people recovering from kidney transplants.

A London-based study into a muscle pump activator called “the geko” has found the thin leg band shortens hospital stays and drastically reduces infection in kidney transplant recipients.

The device is designed to improve blood flow by stimulating the muscles in the lower leg. It is viewed as significantly less intrusive than the current standard of care for improving blood flow and reducing edema after surgery. Currently, thrombo-embolic-deterrent (TED) stockings paired with compression devices are used to squeeze the lower legs to boost circulation in patients. The stockings can be uncomfortable to wear and the large pump can prevent early movement and disrupt sleep.

In a two year clinical trial, researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute found patients using the geko in their recovery were hospitalized for one less day and wound infections fell by 60 per cent.

“Transplant patients are at a higher risk of infection due to the immunosuppressant medications needed after surgery,” said Dr. Alp Sener, Lawson scientist and London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) transplant surgeon. “Reducing infection means a much better outcome for the patient and considering that recent data shows wound infections can cost the health care system thousands of dollars per person, it’s a win-win situation.”

Researchers examined 221 transplant recipients at the LHSC for the study. Participants were given the geko or the TED stockings to wear for six days after surgery. What scientists found was the geko increased urine output by 27 per cent and lowered weight gain by over a kilogram. That reduced patient swelling by 31 per cent.

“The study results have been both surprising and exciting,” said Sener. “Not only have we cut down wound infection rates but we have also seen a considerable improvement in the new organ’s function following transplantation. Patients report feeling more satisfied with the transplant process and are more mobile.”

One of those patients is 68-year-old Ruben Garcia who received a kidney from his daughter Ruby.

Initially, Garcia’s new kidney was functioning at a low rate which left him with pain, swelling and virtually unable to get out of bed. After his doctor recommended he try the geko, Garcia was up and walking within one day.

“My kidney woke up and starting working again,” said Garcia. “I could feel the device working and it was comfortable to wear, almost like a massage for my legs. I’m very grateful for the care that I received.”

Kidney transplant recipients at the LHSC are now regularly being offered the geko device as part of their recovery.

Looking toward the future, researchers believe the small device could improve outcomes for patients undergoing other procedures.

“Using a muscle pump activator could be a game changer for other procedures like orthopedic implants where wound infection can have disastrous consequences or in surgeries where wound infections are more common such as in cancer and intestinal surgery,” said Sener.

The study was recently published in the Canadian Urological Association Journal.

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