New robotics could help stroke victims walk again

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Richard Torres can often be found inching his way through the rehabilitation room at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Last month, he suffered a stroke which left his right side with no mobility. "It had a bleeding stroke, so it affected his speech and his writing and his right side," his wife Cindy Torres said. She is excited about a new robotic device being tested on Torres.

The robotic exoskeleton was developed by Richmond-based company Ekso Bionics. "This technology will help individuals after a spinal cord injury, stroke, brain injury, anyone with certain mobility issues, become more mobile and get out there again and become more mobile," explained Director of Rehabilitation Research Dr. Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner.

It has two batteries, four motors, and a computer attached to the person's back. Torres uses his functioning left leg on his own and the device helps him pick up the right leg, allowing him to walk.

"So, it's letting them walk with the power they have, supplementing what they don't have to try to get a smooth over ground walk," explained Darrell Musick with Ekso Bionics.

The stroke damaged blood vessels. The brain now has a hard time communicating information which would normally tell his body to move or speak. The only way to improve is through constant practice. In a typical physical therapy session, Torres would probably walk 10 feet but with the Ekso device, he has walked 360 feet.

What this device will hopefully do is allow the person to relearn certain motor skills. "Our hope is that with this intervention, the patients will be able to relearn walking function better and have a better outcome," Musick said.

It will be tested at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and at other hospitals with the road toward independence, not far away.

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