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'Exoskeleton' Helps Paralyzed Stand, Take Steps
Date:1/13/2012

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Veteran ski patrol member Mike Rhode was speeding down a snowy slope at Hunter Mountain in New York state when his ski unexpectedly popped off.

Rhode, then a member of the ski patrol for 13 years, wasn't able to regain his balance before hitting a fence. Now, tragically, he is paralyzed from the chest down.

But last October, 10 months after the accident, Rhode was able to walk again with the assistance of Ekso, a robotic "exoskeleton" that he and five other testers "wore" on their body during an initial trial, enabling them to stand up and even take steps.

"I was upright for an hour and 10 minutes and was actually walking for 31 minutes," said Rhode, 46. "It was such a positive feeling."

Ekso is one of just a few robotic "exoskeletons" giving paraplegics and quadraplegics something they may never have dreamed of before: the ability to stand and walk on their own again.

With the Ekso that Rhode tested, "the therapist controls the sit-to-stand and moving forward," explains Dr. Steven Kirshblum, medical director and director of Spinal Cord Injury Services at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J.

All Rhode had to do was start pushing out of his wheelchair as he had done many times before and the Ekso, as manipulated by the therapist, did the rest.

Kessler, a leader in the field of disability rehabilitation, is one of 10 U.S. organizations partnering with Ekso Bionics to develop clinical versions of the device.

A clinical model is due out "very soon," said Kirshblum. That model will allow the individual patient to control the device, can be for home use and will have the ability to negotiate stairs, he said.

"This will occur via wireless communication between the crutches and the sensors on the exoskeleton, assuring the individual is in the appropriate position and is safe to undertak
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