Robotic exoskeleton helps woman walk again after suffering stroke

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Teresa Reed sits quietly at the end of a hallway at the physical therapy room at Franciscan Health. She is wearing a black harness with Velcro straps around her lower legs. Two physical therapists speak quietly to her and in a few minutes urge her to lean forward and stand up.

It’s a move she might not be able to make without the help of an Ekso GT robotic exoskeleton.

“I feel like a robot when I have it on, but it’s helped to get my leg moving,” said Reed.

Teresa uses a walker and slowly lifts her right leg and moves it forward. Her left leg follows. A backpack that contains a battery and computer is strapped to her back. It’s not easy, but it’s the training she needs after a stroke last spring that left her paralyzed on her right side.

The Ekso GT with variable assist software is the only exoskeleton available for rehabilitation institutions that can provide adaptive amounts of power to either side the of the patient’s body, challenging the patient as they progress through their care.

That’s a big benefit to stroke patients, like Teresa, whose paralysis affects only one side of the body.

Teresa is wearing the robotic exoskeleton with the goal of walking normally. It forces her to shift her weight and move each leg forward.

“Studies show that only 7 percent of patients work on walking after stroke,” says Dr. Sachin Mehta. “They spend a lot of time in bed. We want to reverse that trend. We want them up and moving from day one after the stroke”

The exoskeleton also helps Teresa avoid bad habits, as she rehabs.

“We sometimes see that people have a stroke and they’re getting better. They start limping and that limp becomes a habit. So this allows them to walk with a better pattern from day one,” says Dr. Mehta.

Franciscan Health Indianapolis began using Ekso GT earlier this year for stroke patients and is the first in central Indiana to do so.

“Some of the early research from top rehab centers show very promising results in improved walking, stability, balance and improved pattern of walking. Additionally there are decreased falls,” said Dr. Mehta.

Teresa Reed works with the exoskeleton two times a week. She believes she’s getting stronger. The device can and does measure steps, time standing and walking and distance covered. Her son, David, is encouraged.

“All I can ask for is progress and she’s making it. So that’s a bonus.”

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