Exo-skeleton can help quadriplegics walk

EDMONTON — There may be hope on the horizon for those suffering from spinal chord injuries, researchers say.

Those researchers were in Edmonton to show off the affects of the ReWalk, an exo-skeleton device that can allow paraplegics to walk without assistance.

“When I first started walking I was very scared. I couldn’t feel my legs touching the ground — it felt like I was floating,” said Robert Woo, who until entering the research program and trapping on the ReWalk hadn’t taken a step in over five years.

“It’s an incredible feeling, being able to stand up, and talk to everybody at eye level rather than looking up at everybody. Taking my first step it was just phenomenal, it’s hard to describe what it was like being able to stand and to walk, like it was before.”

The ReWalk was developed by Amit Goffer, a man who, after becoming a quadriplegic, became frustrated with the lack of alternatives to the wheelchair that were available, so he began to tinker with ideas himself.

After developing the ReWalk he approached Ann Spungen, an associate professor of medicine at Mt. Sinai School, who was studying the secondary affects that spinal chord injuries can have on those who are paralysed.

Spungen, along with co-workers, then began tracking the health effects of getting paraplegics out of their wheelchairs.

“The human body is not meant to sit 24/7 as they have to do in a wheelchair because of their paralyses,” Spungen said.

“Getting them up and walking a couple of hours every day is likely going to be very good for them.”

And these effects have been astounding, Woo said.

Woo has gained a pound of muscle in each leg, lost fat from every part of his body, and has regained the ability to lift his legs without any assistance, even from the exo-skeleton.

The devices are not available for private use in Canada yet, but four have been purchased by citizens in Europe for home use.

Woo said that it is his hope that the technology used in this device will eventually be able to take it out of the lab, and into every day life.

“I hope that this can maybe become a possible replacement to a wheelchair,” he said.

“It’s an alternate mobility device and I hope that it gets small, and the price comes down so that everybody that is paralysed has that opportunity to walk again.

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