Roper St. Francis Healthcare: Robotic Suit Helps Some Walk again, First in South Carolina

New Delhi, March 3 — Charleston’s Tink Wallace can tell you the date, and time, when she took her last step.

“It was the day I got hurt,” she said. “December 16, 1996, about 11 o’clock.”

Wallace obtained a spinal cord injury after a near 20-foot fall, while working in construction. The avid sports fan and basketball coach was treated in several Lowcountry rehabilitation centers, even undergoing surgery to sit upright again.

“When they gave me the opportunity to do this, I was like, let’s do it.”

Friday, Wallace walked laps around the room at Roper Hospital’s Irene Dixon Auditorium, thanks to a robotic mobility suit called ReWalk.

The medical technology includes a brace support suit, computer-based control system, and motion sensors.

Using crutches for support, most patients are able to stand, walk, sit, even turn.

“There are certain things we have to look for,” said Dr. Jeff Tubbs, of Roper Hospital’s Center for Spinal Cord Injury.

Patients are evaluated for bone health, bone density, and range of motion. Tubbs says height can also be a factor.

Roper Hospital’s Center for Spinal Cord injury is the first program in the state to house the technology, one of only 22 in the United States.

“I remember the first time when I stood up I was by a window and I could look out and I was like wow, that’s what the buildings look like from this view,” Wallace said.

Physical therapist Megan Spencer said the bulk of the physical work is left up to ReWalk. Patients initiate movement with their hips.

The robot is moving her legs for her, she said. It’s more of a weight shift from her body.

“It just means the world to look someone in the eye straight to straight,” added Tink Wallace. “To be up with you guys, it feels awesome.”

Roper Rehabilitation Hospital purchased the system through grant funding from the Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund. The hospital hopes to use the technology as a research tool.

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