What does it feel like to use an exo-skeleton?

Someone using an assistive exoskeleton to walk
3 minute read


Someone using an assistive exoskeleton to walk

We were recently invited to visit the Buckinghamshire Neurorehabilitation unit in Aylesbury by Sian Richardson, the Admissions Pathway Coordinator. This unit treats patients who have a catastrophic injury, such as a brain injury, spinal injury or a stroke. Every patient is individually assessed to work out a treatment plan with them, their family, therapists and clinicians to ensure the best outcome possible.

Paul Sankey (a Partner in our Medical Negligence team), Huw Ponting ( a Partner in our Personal Injury Team) and I wanted to visit the unit in person as we have a range of clients who have suffered serious injuries and thought they would benefit from such focused rehabilitation. Patient safety was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and we all took a lateral flow test before we entered the main hospital area.

We were shown around the unit (other than the patient wards) by Richard Gomm, who is the Business Development Manager.  Richard very kindly took the time to explain how patients are assessed, how they reach the unit initially and the services offered once they arrive. He has a background in assistive technology and wheelchair assessment so was able to give us some real insight into the way the unit works and the treatments that it offers.

My background is as a nurse and midwife and so I had been looking forward to seeing the technology used to help patients, such as the anti-gravity suits. I was especially interested in the exo-skeleton technology, so you can imagine how excited I was when I was told I could try one. Marcelo Rohde is an experienced physiotherapist at the unit who has a special interest in robotics. I had to be measured up so the exo-skeleton would work for me. It took a little adjusting as the previous person who had used it was over 6 foot and I am 5 ft 2. There are various different types of exo-skeleton, but I used the EKSO. This is a device that provides support to patients who have paralysis due to an injury. It is a wearable bionic device that increases strength and mobility. It allows the patient to stand up from sitting, to walk in a straight line, stand for a period of time and sit down from a standing position.

It was very strange handing over control to the device. You cannot try and walk, but have to follow the instructions and let the device move for you. Marcelo told me what to do as he supported and adapted the unit as I walked. I can imagine that it must be a little frightening to use initially if you do have paralysis. However, once I started to understand how I could take steps and how to lean forward and to alternate sides to move ahead it was an amazing experience.

Marcelo then altered the sensation to make it feel as if I had paralysis. This felt very strange, as if I would fall to the side. Once I got used to it; I appreciated the amazing benefit it represents for a patient who might have been told that they will never be able to walk again. You can stand, feel supported and take steps. I was told about some very impressive results within the unit that have altered lives and enabled patients to get back to a normality that they had never anticipated again. I’d like to thank Marcelo for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to understand what patients go through when they use an exoskeleton.

We then recovered with the same lunch that was served to the patients that day. It was very different from the lunches that I remember being served when I worked in the NHS. Fresh green vegetables, fish and salad; delicious.

Our thanks go out to Sian, Richard and Marcelo for inviting us to visit and for taking the time out of their busy day to show us around and allow me to try the EKSO. It was a very enlightening day which will enable me to speak with a little more insight about rehabilitation to clients who have suffered a catastrophic injury.

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