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Bionic suit offers spinal cord injury patients help walking

December 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A new bionic suit is helping paralyzed patients walk. It's the first time this technology has been available in Southern California. It's giving one man the use of his legs again.

A July 2010 accident left Aaron Bloom, 27, paralyzed from the waist down.

"It's really important that you just get up after something like that. I think that's what's most important," said Bloom.

And thanks to the latest in bionic technology, he does get up and walk.

"Mentally it's a wonderful feeling to be upright and moving," said Bloom.

For the last three months, he's been training on the Ekso, a ready-to-wear battery-powered bionic suit. It was first designed to help soldiers carry heavy loads. Now it's bearing a different weight. Aaron provides the balance and body position, the Ekso does the rest.

"I just started using this pro-step function yesterday so this is still pretty awesome, in my mind," said Bloom.

Other spinal cord injury patients watch in amazement. Lupe Meza, 47, became paralyzed after a cliff-jumping accident. The suit makes her dream.

"I want to dance," said Meza. "Maybe I can make it dance. I just want to get up. I want to walk."

Huntington Hospital is the first in Southern California to offer this technology to its rehabilitation patients. For now, the $150,000 suit and its use in therapy are not covered by insurance.

But rehab specialists say the device helps patients in many ways, including keeping bones strong.

"That would help prevent osteoporosis for spinal cord injuries if you can get in a device like this," said Michael Parkinson, a physical therapist at Huntington Hospital.

Presently the Ekso Bionics suit is only available for use at rehab centers, but the short-term goal is to be able to get them ready for patient use at home.

"It'll be lighter weight, it'll be easier to get on and it'll be custom made for them," said Parkinson.

"I have no doubt that in my lifetime there'll be some sort of solution for spinal cord injuries," said Bloom. "I firmly believe that I'll be able to walk in the future."


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