Tech Week: Stepping Out with Ekso

Of all the adaptive tech that has been introduced in the last decade, there is one class of technology that has sparked incredible hope – and media attention – across the world: wearable exoskeletons. These robotic suits give people with paralysis an opportunity to not only stand, but also to walk. And yes – it is as awesome as it sounds.

Here at Magee, we have our own wearable exoskeleton: the Ekso. For months, Magee staff were trained extensively on this technology, learning the mechanics, training progressions and how to identify appropriate candidates. More than a year later, what we have been able to accomplish with the Ekso is nothing short of incredible.

Take Frankie. Frankie was in a motorcycle accident in 1998 that left him paralyzed from just below the chest down. The injury was such that doctors told him it was unlikely he would ever walk again. But that was before the Ekso. Frankie was evaluated by the Magee staff and turned out to be an excellent candidate.

When the day came for his first session with the Ekso, Frankie was more than ready to don the bionic suit. His mom, Dolly, came along to see her son take his second set of first steps. But she wasn’t the only member of the audience. Videographers from National Geographic were there to capture Frankie’s monumental moment to include in a special segment on robotics in medicine (see video below).

But these first steps wouldn’t be a sprint. To use the Ekso to walk, the patient must provide the balance and proper positioning – and that’s not easy. Once the balance and positioning is in place, the physical therapist uses a remote control to program the step length and speed, as well as when the Ekso stands, sits and takes a step. This allows the physical therapist to teach the patient when to take a step, how to position the body and how to shift their weight in preparation for their next step.

As the patient progresses, so does the Ekso. All users start out with a walker, but have the potential to eventually move to crutches. The physical therapist also has the ability to increase the speed and length of step as the patient becomes more comfortable with the device. Eventually, the user can become independent with the device and graduate away from the need for assistance from a physical therapist. Pretty cool, huh?

And the benefits of working with Ekso aren’t just physical. Think about it. It allows someone who has spent a significant amount of time in a wheelchair to look people eye to eye, and to get a view of their world straight on. They have a new control over their environment, and are likely to see improvements in self-image and self-esteem.

You can see Frankie take his first steps with Magee and the Ekso in the video below. If you are interested in being evaluated for training with the Ekso, contact Magee’s Riverfront Outpatient Facility at (215) 218-3900 to learn more.

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