Technology in medicine continues to evolve in many areas, bringing an array of life-changing possibilities. For people with spinal cord injuries, technology now brings a chance to stand upright and actually walk. A wearable robotic device called ReWalk enables paraplegics with certain spinal cord injuries to do just that.
Nine months ago, Burke discharged Rusty, the first individual in the region to acquire a ReWalk for home use. The device is known as a wearable exoskeleton, the term used for the hard external shell seen in crabs or grasshoppers.
ReWalk received FDA approval just four years ago. It has been used extensively in rehabilitation facilities and is now becoming a viable personal device.
Through its outpatient clinics, Burke therapists are hoping to help more patients and community members with spinal cord injuries take advantage of this striking technology. The department offers multiple ReWalk Clinic days throughout the year for individuals to test the device.
ReWalk has footplates, exoskeletal extensions on each leg, and mechanical knee joints. There is a pelvic band, a tilt sensor to measure trunk forward-tilt angle, a backpack to store the batteries, a computerized control system, and a remote-control wristband. The remote control provides selections for standing, walking, sitting, and stair up and down modes. Forearm crutches are used to aid balance.
Besides the obvious benefit of freedom and autonomy, being able to stand upright and move means a healthier life overall. People who are wheelchair bound suffer from life-threatening side effects. Among those are recurrent skin infections from the constant pressure of sitting in the same position, and repeated urinary tract infections or sepsis. Walking provides important benefits to the heart, and a standing posture is much healthier for internal organs and bowel function.
A former Senior Physical Therapist at Burke, Glenda Rosado is now Supervisor of Outpatient Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Montefiore New Rochelle and Montefiore Mt. Vernon where potential ReWalk candidates are evaluated for upper body strength, muscle spasticity and range of motion.
If a ReWalk device is appropriate for the patient, the first step is to be fitted. ReWalk specialists come to the clinic and take a number of measurements. When the device is ready, the patient will try it on and the measurements are double-checked.
In the second step, a Burke therapist begins to work with the patient to improve strength, leading to another trial with the device. Rosado, Rusty’s former therapist, says that increasing endurance was a focus. “When Rusty first started therapy, he could only walk about 20 feet with his walker. By the time he began using the ReWalk, he had increased to 200 feet, and when he left Burke in December of 2017, he could go 1,000 feet without resting.” (Watch the video of Rusty leaving Burke here: http://rewalk.com/testimonials/)
In the third step, the insurance process is initiated, and that includes a doctor’s approval and a physical therapy evaluation. Once a patient gets a ReWalk, he or she continues to train on the device at Burke to become proficient at using it, and to be able to put it on independently.
In addition to all the physical benefits of standing and walking, ReWalkers say that the most precious gift is being able to look another human being in the eye.
The ReWalk is just one example of the technology Burke uses to help patients achieve their highest level of independence. Burke’s inpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation program uses an interdisciplinary team along with technology like the FES Bike, WalkAide, LiteGait, Zero G Lite and SAEBO to help get patients recovering from spinal cord injuries up and moving. Click here to learn more about Burke’s Inpatient Spinal Cord Injury Program.