Exoskeleton helps patients learn to walk again

Exoskeleton helps patients learn to walk again

GERMANTOWN, TN (WMC) - A major announcement was made Thursday at Baptist Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital in Germantown.

Mid-South patients who suffer a spinal cord injury or stroke now have access to a bionic suit that speeds up rehabilitation.

The Ekso GT exoskeleton is a game changer. It's a battery operated, robotic suit worn during physical therapy. Software allows it to be customized to the patients' needs, helping them relearn how to stand up and start walking more quickly.

"It's really jump-started my recovery," said Hillary Barrera, "in a direction that I am really grateful for."

Five years ago, Barrera fell off a roof, landing 25 feet down on concrete. A spinal cord injury left her unable to walk.

The Ekso GT sped up her recovery. It used to take Barrera 40 minutes to walk a quarter of a mile. After two years of physical therapy with the Ekso GT, she can now walk one mile in 50 minutes.

"Getting to use the Ekso built the confidence," she said, "for me to go out into the community and do things by myself and get around and make it work."

The Ekso GT makes a therapist's job easier, too, because the suit allows the patient to stand on their own and use their own weight to make the suit operate.

"It has been shown in research to help people with their walking speed," said physical therapist Leslie VanHiel, "and with their walking distance, as well as their walking quality. Patients use their weight to pilot the suit and take the next step."

Barrera and VanHiel showed how the Ekso GT works during a demonstration at Baptist Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital. It is the first hospital in Tennessee to use the cutting edge technology.

"We believe as more and more facilities get these," said Doug King with Ekso Bionics, "more and more patients will seek them out, and we'll continue to see that."

The suit can be customized for patients 5-feet to 6-feet-4 inches tall, weighing up to 220 pounds. It gives patients better posture, strength, and confidence.

"I hope I don't need it in five years," said Barrera, "and that I'm out moving around, doing whatever I want in five years. That's my hope and my belief."

The Ekso GT is used in more than 200 rehab centers around the world. It's designed for PT in a hospital setting, but Ekso Bionics is already busy developing a robotic suit that can be used at home.

To make a referral, schedule a tour or have a patient evaluated by a clinical liaison at Baptist Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital, call 901-275-3311.

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