Mar. 12 - A powered exoskeletal suit is giving paraplegics a new lease on life, allowing them to walk on their own - even up stairs. The ReWalk is the latest example of a developing technology that might one day make wheelchairs a thing of the past for spinal cord injury patients. Ben Gruber reports.
Errol Samuels is walking for the first time in two years. He's a paraplegic, the victim of a roof collapse which left him with severe, irreversible spinal damage. He thought he would never walk again, but now with the help of a state-of-the-art robotic exoskeleton....he's doing just that. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ERROL SAMUELS, PARALYSIS PATIENT SAYING: "I feel like Robo cop a little bit. So, it's always good to get up and to get around." The exoskeleton is called a ReWalk and it has been customised to fit Errol's body. He can control its movements with a device attached to his wrist... which feeds commands to a computer he wears on his back. Dr. Allan Kozlowski, a rehabilitation specialist at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, says devices like these will soon offer victims of paralysis new hope for a dramatically improved quality of life. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ALLAN KOZLOWSKI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF REHABILITATION MEDICINE AT ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MOUNT SINAI, SAYING: "As the technology evolves, I can see these things becoming a replacement for wheelchairs or that they might be integrated as a combination device, where the exoskeleton is part of a wheelchair but when you want to get up and walk you leave the wheels behind and away you go." But Errol Samuels says learning to walk again has taken determination and practice. He has used the ReWalk twelve times and each time he says it gets a bit easier, helping him reach his goal. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ERROL SAMUELS, PARALYSIS PATIENT SAYING: "It gives you more independence. You don't have to look for help going up a step. Once you get that trigger down pat and [you'll be] reaching for things that are way out of reach when you're sitting." (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ALLAN KOZLOWSKI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF REHABILITATION MEDICINE AT ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MOUNT SINAI, SAYING: "It's learning to walk again. And so initially we'll help them a lot. We'll physically move them into that position so that they can get a sense of how to move with that device. As we start to get a sense of that we'll decrease how much assistance we give. We'll go from giving a lot of assistance to maybe just a little bit to help them reach that balance point." And Errol Samuels says he's making progress. His doctors expect that the ReWalk suit will soon be approved for home use in the US, to help those who can't walk get back on their feet.