In 2011, 49-year-old Chris Tagatac fell 25 feet off his Vermont home roof becoming paralyzed from the sternum down. Six months later, he was walking again, albeit slowly, thanks to a new mobility aid called “Ekso”.
“The first thing my mother did was put her hand to her mouth and said, ‘amazing,'” Tagatac, said. “When my daughter saw me walk for the first time after six or seven months, she looked at me and said, ‘I forgot how tall you were.'”
Tagatac is one of twelve patients participating in a study utilizing the wearable robot Ekso, short for exoskeleton, and being run by the Kessler NeuroRecovery Network. Dr. Gail Forrest, who is leading the program, is focusing her research on the overall patient health benefits of Ekso. This includes oxygen flow through the body and total body muscle engagement.
“We’re going from these [Eksos] being just perhaps gimmicks that allow people to stand and walk, and we’re starting to see that people using these things could actually benefit from them,” said Dr. Trevor Dyson-Hudson, the director of spinal cord injury research at Kessler. “These are all very early results, but it’s a huge potential that these things could perhaps be incorporated into rehabilitation.”
The Ekso was first introduced in 2010 with a total of 12 national health centers utilizing the devices. Dr. Forrest presented her findings on Monday hoping to entice more programs around the country to participate in Ekso therapy and/or research. Long-term studies are still needed to examine additional health benefits the device may offer against wheelchair complications (pressure ulcers and chronic pain for example) but researchers are excited about what they’ve seen so far.
As for Tagatac, he feels incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in Dr. Forrest’s study.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to be chosen. After being told six months before that I’ll never be able to walk again, and to be able to take that that first step six months after being injured was amazing. I view the Ekso as something that fills the gap until that miracle happens. Ekso is the best possible tool to stay in shape and continue to walk until that science arrives.”
For more information on the Ekso, visit: http://eksobionics.com/