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Keene man walks with the help of a robotic suit

More than three years after doctors told Cory Cook he’d never walk again, he’s taking regular strolls outside his Keene home with his wife, Colline, and their 13-year-old dog Jackie.

It’s in those moments that Cory, 35, trades his wheelchair for a wearable ‘ReWalk’ exoskeleton. With it on, he can see the world from a higher vantage point than he’s been able to since June 9, 2012, when a swimming accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“It’s great to be mobile in a vertical position, and it gives me a pretty good workout at the same time. Everyone comments on how tall I am,” said Cory, who’s 6-foot-1.

The ReWalk is the first exoskeleton approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for personal use in the community, but not on stairs. The device is controlled with a Bluetooth watch, which has three user-initiated functions: sit, stand and walk. It is made up of brace supports, a computer-based control system and motion sensors.

Cory was the first person in the Boston area to try the ReWalk at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., in fall 2014. He said he found the ReWalk to be much less cumbersome and more user-friendly than another exoskeleton he’d tried previously.

And what makes the ReWalk extra special, he said, is that he was able to bring one home July 23. It was his reward after months of intensive therapy and practice using the device at Spaulding. Plus, private health insurance paid for the $70,000 machine in full, he said.

After using the ReWalk once or twice a week for nearly 10 months, Cory is more comfortable with the machine and the forearm crutches used for stabilization, but still needs his wife nearby for support. Colline walks behind her husband with her hands out in case he loses his balance, and she helps him navigate uneven ground.

ReWalk-SentinelSource-2

“He’s not completely independent in it yet, so I spend my time behind him. There are times at Spaulding when I can walk next to him and that’s a pretty incredible feeling,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a future when we’re more comfortable with it. We’ve seen other ‘ReWalkers’ just cruise around all over the place.”

Cory said the first day he tried the ReWalk at Spaulding was a frustrating one, because he got only 10 feet in two hours.

“It took a lot of perseverance,” he said.

Colline explained that the machine requires a person to have good core strength, which Cory struggles with because of the extent of his paralysis. The ReWalk, though, is slowly improving his core muscles, she said.

Continued physical therapy sessions in Boston and his regular workouts at a Keene gym are also improving his strength and mobility. Cory uses a specialized rowing machine designed for people with spinal cord injuries, and houses that machine at Option 1 Fitness in Keene. It’s something he first used at Spaulding in the months after his injury.

Late last year, he was awaiting his own rower. Now, he has it and the ReWalk and is eager to continue using both.

But that’s not where Cory’s story ends; he’s looking for another innovative therapy in the Boston area and hopes the ReWalk will open new doors.

And as he gets the hang of walking on even ground, he’s contemplating how to conquer walking the hills near his home.

It’ll be a challenge, he said. “But what fun is life if it’s not full of challenges.”


Author: Alyssa Dandrea (Sentinel Staff) / Pictures: Bill Gnade (Sentinel Staff)
Date: August 2, 2015
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