Entries in Paraplegics (2)


'Ekso' Robot Helps Wheelchair-Bound Patients Walk Again

Jody Bank/Kessler Foundation(NEW YORK) -- Chris Tagatac thought he would never walk again.  He fell 25 feet from his Vermont roof in July 2011, and was paralyzed from the sternum down.

But six months later, with the aid of a wearable robot called "Ekso" (short for exoskeleton), he took his first steps -- 52 of them, to be exact.

"The first thing my mother did was put her hand to her mouth and said, 'amazing,'" Tagatac, 49, told ABC News.  "When my daughter saw me walk for the first time after six or seven months, she looked at me and said, 'I forgot how tall you were.'"

Tagatac is one of 12 patients using the Ekso for a study under Dr. Gail Forrest, who directs the Kessler Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network.  Her preliminary findings showed that patients took in more oxygen when they were standing and walking compared with the resting position, in addition to other health benefits.  She also saw increased muscle "firing" or electrical activity in paraplegics' lower legs, but that's because muscles are being stretched, not because they are becoming functional again.

"We're going from these being just perhaps gimmicks that allow people to stand and walk, and we're starting to see that people using these things could actually benefit from them," said Dr. Trevor Dyson-Hudson, the director of spinal cord injury research at Kessler Foundation.  "These are all very early results, but it's a huge potential that these things could perhaps be incorporated into rehabilitation."

Versions of the Ekso have been around since 2010, and 11 other centers are using it.  Forrest said her new research involves attaching external electrodes to patients' bodies to record data about how they respond to the device.  After collecting data for a few months, Forrest is already seeing evidence that patients benefit physically from the Ekso -- not to mention the emotional boost patients get from being able to look people in the eye.

Forrest presented her findings Monday at a meeting in Las Vegas, and is continuing to research patients' cardiovascular, muscular system and circulatory systems, among other things.

Since Tagatac had the natural body awareness of an athlete before his accident, and his injury was recent enough that standing doesn't cause the dramatic change in his blood pressure common with long-term wheelchair-bound patients, he was invited to participate in an Ekso study three days a week.

"I consider myself extremely lucky to be chosen," he said. "After being told six months before that I'll never be able to walk again, and to be able to take that that first step six months after being injured was amazing."

At his last session, Tagatac walked 3,000 steps in one hour.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Robotic Device Helps Paraplegics Stand Tall

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The new Tek Robotic Mobilization Device is designed to help people who have lost the use of their legs to stand up and move around in an upright position with seemingly little effort.

With the help of a pressurized spring similar to ones found in office chairs and car hatchbacks, users can move their bodies into the Tek device’s upright frame and, once standing, navigate the device using a joystick.

Necati Hacikadiroglu, the device’s inventor who specializes in robotics, said it was designed to give paraplegics independence they can’t get from a wheelchair. It even comes with a remote control.

“Paraplegic people don’t like to be attached to any device or a wheelchair all day long,” he said. “The user can get on to the device all by himself so that he doesn’t need any outside help.”

Many of us may take our ability to stand for granted, but the position is actually important for health. Being confined to a seated position increases the risk of blood clots, blood pressure abnormalities and kidney and urinary problems. Dr. Peter Gorman, chief of rehabilitation medicine at Kernan Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore, said paraplegics often lose bone mass in their legs, which puts them at a greater risk of fractures.

As important are the psychological benefits of standing along with everyone else.

“Just being at eye level with people is a human desire,” Gorman said.

David Blackburn, a psychologist who works with physical rehabilitation patients at Scott and White Hospital in Temple, Texas, said giving paraplegics the same independence as their able-bodied peers vastly improves their quality of life. But he said no device is likely to fix feelings of loss and frustration for people who suddenly lose the use of their legs.

“The problem that needs to be overcome is the acceptance of their condition,” Blackburn said. “But if you have a device or tool, anything that can help normalize a person’s life, especially with regard to mobility, that will help them a lot.”

On its website, manufacturer AMS Mekatronik, a research and development company in Istanbul, Turkey, touts the device’s compact frame and the fact that paraplegics can mount it easily, unlike a wheelchair, which requires a person to essentially throw their body onto it.

Gorman said there are standing wheelchairs and other robotic devices that can keep paraplegics in an upright position. But their frames are in the back, meaning paraplegics need assistance getting in or out of them.

“The frame in the front is a unique innovation. You can get into this thing without too much hassle,” Gorman said.

Hacikadiroglu said each device is custom-made according to a person’s height and weight. It’s designed mainly for indoor use. But at a cost of $15,000, most people probably wouldn’t risk taking it for a spin in the great outdoors.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio