Exoskeleton helps patients take steps toward their recovery
It took Bruce Cox 65 days to walk by himself after suffering a stroke in March.
Cox, 58, said he flatlined and was eventually revived after 20 minutes. As he worked to get better, he found the physical therapy challenging.
“Rehab is incredibly difficult. I cried my eyes out many times,” he said.
He couldn’t raise his arms or move around on his own.
As a patient at Kindred Hospital, part of his rehabilitation involved using an exoskeleton to help him stand and learn to walk again.
The Spring and Clear Lake Kindred Hospital locations are both piloting Ekso Bionics exoskeletons, which the hospital system obtained in April, said Stephanie Madrid, division vice president of the Houston district for Kindred Hospital. Kindred Hospital in Spring hosted a ribbon cutting and exoskeleton demonstration on May 22.
“The technology is amazing to be able to synchronize with a patient’s own muscle activity. What it does is help the patient create new neural pathways after they’ve had a stroke and that’s really what’s really needed to help them progress. They can do more repetitions of walking and steps than they could if they were just walking around on their own with a therapist,” she said.
More of the exoskeleton machines may be added in the future if more patients require it.
Director of rehabilitation Kenneth Smith said patients requiring physical therapy with the exoskeleton need to be between 5-feet to 6-feet-4-inches tall and weigh under 220 pounds.
“With that machine, the patient doesn’t bear the burden of the weight of the machine. It bears its own weight. It can give the patient total assistance walking, it can give a partial assist or the patient can walk on their own. It just kind of re-educates them and improves the quality of distance walking,” Smith said.
The motorized parts at the hips and knees of the exoskeleton reminded Madrid and Smith of the film “RoboCop”.
While undergoing his physical therapy, Cox said he used the exoskeleton for about three weeks.
Initially, the machine was restrictive and made him feel claustrophobic.
“The first time you get in it, it is so incredibly tight. You feel like you’re in an iron maiden or some sort of a contraption. It takes your breath away because it is so rigid and so tight. It has to be, it’s a machine. You cannot be loose inside of it,” he said.
Patients also need to be partially functional by having the use of at least one side of their bodies—either an arm and leg on one side or both arms to be able to use the equipment, Smith said.
Other patients who have undergone physical therapy after suffering a stroke don’t always get proper training.
Traditional rehabilitation has patients sitting and standing with the help of parallel bars, but the use of the exoskeleton allows patients to receive more dynamic therapy.
“It’s kind of like a neuro-muscular reeducation. If you’ve ever seen stroke patients walk, if they haven’t had the proper training, a lot of times, it’s an awkward gait. They’re compensating because of the weakness and imbalance. This machine helps retrain and have a better quality of gait, so it decreases the risk of falls, it helps strengthen the patient, it improves the distance that they can walk, also the posture,” Smith said.
Cox said that as part of his therapy, at first being in the exoskeleton made him feel like he would tip over and fall.
He began seeing results and is now able to walk with a cane.
“I just think that people need to be open-minded to technology and not be afraid of it. When you see that thing, it’s like ‘Whoa, what is that?’ but it’s really something. We need to embrace technology. It’s the future and our future is bright,” he said.