Cutting-Edge Robotic Exoskeleton Allows Wheelchair-Bound to Stand and Walk

Cutting edge medicine: robotic suit enables wearers to walk again.

February 3, 2010, 6:31 PM

Feb. 4, 2010— -- When Floyd Morrow's spinal cord was severed in 2006, doctors told him he would never take another step, but a revolutionary new device will give Morrow and other paraplegics the chance to walk again.

"It's the greatest thing," Morrow, 62, said, speaking about the first time he donned the device called ReWalk, a motorized exoskeleton that enables wheelchair users with permanent lower limb disabilities to stand, walk and even climb stairs.

"Just to be able to push a button and it's like, 'OK, let's go.' Go cruising down the hallway, oh, it's awesome," said Morrow, who lives just outside of Atlantic City, N.J.

He never imagined he'd be able to walk again after the 2006 boating accident that paralyzed him for good.

"I couldn't see or speak, but I heard the break in my back," he said.

He is among 14 people currently enrolled in the U.S. clinical trials of ReWalk, which is made by Argo Medical Technologies in Israel.

ReWalk is a lightweight device comprising an upper body harness, backpack and full leg supports.

The supports have motorized hips and knees. Advance motion sensors placed in the shoulder and connected to a backpack computer detect subtle changes in gravity, telling the device when a step needs to be taken. Users control the movement of the leg supports with the help of crutches, so wearers must have the use of their upper bodies in order to control the device.

A battery pack provides three hours of continuous movement.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves ReWalk, researchers said they hope it will be available to the public by the end of 2010. It's not yet known how much it will cost.

Device Offers Multiple Benefits

Dr. Alberto Esquenazi is leading the ReWalk's U.S. trials at MossRehab, a rehabilitation and research center in Philadelphia.

"As a physician, you're improving someone's health. Well, that's hugely satisfactory. But to take something that's irreversible, like spinal cord injury, and allow someone to function again, that to me is a major step," he noted.

In addition to the freedom ReWalk brings, developers say it offers additional health benefits. Lack of exercise means spinal cord patients tend to have weak and brittle bones, but use of ReWalk can reverse that process, they say.

Alysse Einbender suffered a spinal stroke in 2004. The 50-year-old from Wyncote, Pa., is among the trial participants. They get about 24 hours of training on the suit.

"You know, personally what the ReWalk has … meant to me, it's shown me a lot of what my body can do, instead of all the things it can't do. And it's been hugely valuable to me," she said.

Through ReWalk, 46-year-old Ralph Filipkowski was able to stand without the use of a walker for the first time since 1985. That's when the truck he was working under fell on top of him, leaving him paralyzed.

Wearing the ReWalk, Filipkowski stood, took a few steps, and offered a big smile.

"Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos tried the device himself during a recent visit to observe the trials.

He practiced standing up and sitting down, and was shocked at the suit's power.

"It really does push you," Stephanopoulos said.

Esquenazi said the system "does it all" for the user, but added, "you are in control. If you want to take a step, you tell it when to take a step."

Einbender said that being able to stand and take those steps has changed her life.

"Looking into somebody's eyes for the first time at that height was ... really incredible," she said.

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