Robotic device helps paralyzed patients walk

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --  A West Michigan hospital continues to invest in new technology to enhance patient care.

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital recently invested nearly $200,000 for the Indego Exoskeleton device to help patients with spinal cord injuries with walking and standing. It's a battery powered device worn around the waist and legs.

“I’ve been doing this [Indego Exoskeleton] suit for about two months," said patient Brittany Yeomans. "As time has passed, I feel like I could walk out of it.”

To walk or stand using the device, the patient leans forward. In order to stop or sit, the patient leans backward.

“It is a different kind of feeling, just being able to be upright, that in itself," said Yeomans. "I'm usually sitting down so to be able to be up and have the motion of walking, it’s amazing.”

In May 2013, Yeomans was injured in a motorcycle accident.

"The bike landed on top of my back, severed my back, and I became paralyzed then," said Yeomans.

Yeomans said she no longer has any voluntary movement below her waist. When she heard about the Indego Exoskeleton, she wanted to take advantage of the equipment to improve mobility and strength.

“I’m trying to do what I can to stay as strong as possible," said Yeomans.

Mary Free Bed physical therapist Jessica Larson said while there are similar devices out there, Mary Free Bed is the only rehabilitation hospital in Michigan using the Indego Exoskeleton.

"This one is the lightest of all of those that are FDA approved currently," said Larson. "We believe it’s the easiest form that can be put on and off. From a wheelchair level, it’s easier than the other devices. It's much more user friendly.”

Larson is one of the four physical therapists at Mary Free Bed trained on how to work the robotic device. The hospital plans to increase the number of staff trained to help the hundreds of patients in their spinal cord injury programs.

“For someone like Brittany who has no voluntary movement muscle control in her legs, but has core function, it’s definitely important to be standing," said Larson. "Any upright position is good for someone that’s paralyzed, regardless of what it is.”

Yeomans said she's proud of the progress she continues to see and knows she'll continue to see more of it.

“When the doctor told me I was paralyzed and I wasn’t going to walk again, I said, 'Okay I’ll show you,'" said Yeomans.

For more information on Mary Free Bed's rehabilitation services, click here.

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