A wearable, battery-powered robot called the Ekso™, or exoskeleton, is helping paralyzed patients walk again at The Mount Sinai Hospital’s new Rehabilitation Bionics Program, the only program in New York State that uses this device.
The Ekso, manufactured by Ekso Bionics, based in Richmond, California, is strapped over the patients’ clothing, and enables them to stand and walk with the help of a microprocessor that controls movement and a battery that provides power.
“Patients find it extremely gratifying to stand up and ambulate,” says Kristjan T. Ragnarsson, MD. “With this device, the power comes from a rechargeable battery that is carried in a backpack, and it allows patients to walk in a more natural way.” He says patients report that it is much less strenuous to walk with the device than with traditional leg braces.
Three times a week, Robert Woo, 44, uses the device in Mount Sinai’s Rehabilitation Center, where he is part of a clinical trial that will help physicians determine the feasibility of using the robot and other devices like it.
Mr. Woo, an architect and the father of three young sons, became paralyzed in 2007, when a crane dropped seven tons of steel onto the trailer where he was working on plans at a construction site in New York City. Currently, he uses a manual wheelchair to get around, or propels himself forward using arm braces.
Makers of the Ekso say its ease of use varies, depending upon the patient’s physical skills. It was designed for patients who have lost the use of their lower extremities.
“A sedentary lifestyle has risks,” says Dr. Ragnarsson. “And no people are more sedentary than those paralyzed by spinal cord injury. We hope this would be one way to reverse that and be a device that Mr. Woo and others could use every day for mobility.”
To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved such devices for institutional use only, although Dr. Ragnarsson says he hopes they will be available for home use within the next few years, particularly as their current price tag of more than $100,000 begins to decrease.
Contributions from staff and partners at Goldman Sachs, the Henry and Lucy Moses Fund Inc., and additional nonprofit organizations and individuals helped finance Mount Sinai’s purchase of the Ekso, and create the new Rehabilitation Bionics Program.
As new technologies become available, Dr. Ragnarsson says, Mount Sinai will be poised to take advantage of them. “There are a lot of exciting technological developments happening in rehabilitation medicine,” he says. “We are hoping to expand our program and take it a lot further.”
This article was first published in Inside Mount Sinai.