CINCINNATI - Last summer, life changed dramatically for Lori Wallhausser.
Wallhausser, a psychiatrist and North Avondale resident, suffered a stroke on July 23. It affected her speech and the use of her right arm and leg.
Now her life is changing once more. A new therapy at the Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care (UC Health) is allowing Wallhausser to walk again. The Ekso is a wearable robot--or exoskeleton--that enables people with paralysis or weakness in their legs to stand, walk, and practice balance.
“To patients, it just feels so good to be up and walking, and the distance that they can walk in the device is so much further than you can walk outside the device,” said Lisa Kelly, a physical therapist with the Drake Center.
The Ekso robot suit is powered with batteries in the knees and hip. A physical therapist straps the Ekso over the patient’s clothing and uses a control pad to program step length and speed.
WATCH: See how the Ekso works for Dr, Wallhausser in the video player above
Walking is achieved as the user shifts weight and activates special sensors that initiate steps, according to Ekso Bionics, the robot’s developers. Physical therapists can modify Ekso, allowing patients to take steps independently when they are ready.
For Wallhausser, repetition of steps is important. With Ekso, she can walk nearly 500feet, which is more than double the distance that she walks with her standard cane and braces.
“In most cases, it really allows us to work on the number of steps we’re taking and really helps with that re-learning process,” Kelly said.
The Daniel Drake Center uses the newest version of Ekso™ Bionics exoskeleton called Variable Assist, which allows patients to contribute their own power from either leg to achieve walking.
“With Variable Assist, they are able to use their strength, and Ekso will pick up where they are unable to. So Ekso kind of adjusts itself to the patient,” Kelly said.
For now, being upright and taking steps with the Ekso wearable robot is a huge boost for Wallhausser’s self-esteem, as it is for other patients.
“You see a smile on their face every time. It’s really great and just opens the door for them to really be thinking about their future and how they can maximize their independence,” Kelly said.
Dr. Wallhausser’s husband, Chris, said his wife is determined to recover from her stroke, and that nothing will get in the way of her walking independently someday.
Initially, the Ekso robotic suit was used for patients with spinal cord injuries. Now, with the new variable assist software, therapists can also use Ekso to help patients with stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Guillian Barre, and other neurological conditions.
In November 2013, the Daniel Drake Center became one of only four clinical sites nationally to launch the new Ekso Variable Assist technology, according to a spokesperson.
Connect with WCPO contributors @markbowenmedia & @gmacknight1 on Twitter!