Mirrors and Mind Tricks: How Face2Face is Redefining Facial Recovery

Face2Face_web-(1).pngWhile many medical innovators today might rely on fancy labs, equipment, or software, no true innovator can dispute the importance of a little duct tape.

Jodi Maron Barth and Gincy Lockhart Stezar are Co-Founders of the Center for Facial Recovery and the co-inventors of a product that started as a prototype built out of cardboard, mirrors and duct tape. That product is now a mobile app called Face2Face designed to supplement general rehabilitative therapy for facial paralysis caused by Bell’s Palsy, Ramsay Hunt syndrome, Lyme disease, acoustic neuroma and stroke.

Facial paralysis therapy, as you might guess, involves a lot of practicing in the mirror. Jodi and Gincy found, however, that looking in the mirror can be distressing to patients.

“We found time and again that for most patients, practice time usually ended up getting cut short, and the recovery timeline would increase,” says Jodi. “It was understandably frustrating for them.”

Jodi-Gincy-043_web.pngIn 2007, Jodi and Gincy attended a session that discussed the way mirrors and boxes have been set up in a way to “trick” the brain of amputee patients to reduce phantom limb pain. The idea is that nerves behave differently if the brain perceives that the area of the body is present and in working order.  Within minutes after the session, the two had a plan.

“We were driving to hardware stores, craft stores, auto-repair and furniture stores to see if we could rig up our own mirror box,” recalls Jodi. “The goal was to replicate and produce a symmetrical image of the non-affected side of the face.”

Not only would this be less frustrating for patients, Jodi and Gincy believed this may be able to shorten recovery time by employing the same Hebbian learning, as amputee therapists were using. After collecting all the materials, and assembling their box prototype, they tried it out with a few patients.  It wasn’t long before they noticed a distinctive shift in the patients’ attitude toward practicing, as well as some measurable success in their recovery.  Thinking they might be onto something, Jodi and Gincy called their former employer at MedStar Health, which had recently announced an unprecedented Innovations Alliance with Cleveland Clinic, for some commercialization advice.

Mirror_book.pngAfter a few iterations of the product, (including one as a bound book, as shown to the right), it dawned on Jodi, Gincy, and the MedStar and CCI teams that the best avenue to impact the most patients would be through a mobile app. Within months, an app was built to manipulate the iPad camera and replicate the mirrored effect. Having never been in the app development space,

Jodi recalls downloading and wading through a host of health mobile apps on the market to ensure Face2Face would be as easy to use and helpful as possible.

“At the advice of my colleagues at MedStar and Cleveland Clinic, I spent a lot of time ‘storyboarding’ for the first-time user as well as the long-term returning and progressing user,” says Jodi. “The process alone was not only helpful as a first time developer, but it generated  so many more ideas for what the app could become.”

The app, which includes a guided home facial neuromuscular education program is available now in the Apple Store, and can be found via ADEO, the Global Healthcare Innovations Alliance online marketplace. The promise of Face2Face recently received national attention in the Washington Post, and Jodi and Gincy have received numerous calls at the Center for Facial Recovery from facial paralysis patients from around the globe.

“I now have the motivation to give our users more and more content that can help with their recovery, and I am finding new opportunities to branch out into more patient populations,” says Jodi. “The ability to help patients outside the four walls of our facility is exhilarating.”