Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Human Locomotion

"I remember standing in a hospital hallway in Halifax and the spinal surgeon telling me about how [physically] limited Amy's life would be and I said, "'No, you don't know my daughter'."
"And it wasn't denial so much as, 'We are going to make it.' And I remember Amy lying in bed with tubes in her mouth and mouthing the words at me -- 'I am going to walk again, Mom' -- and she thought she was going to walk out of that hospital."
"What they say at rehab is: 'Here is your wheelchair, this is where you are going to spend the rest of your life, learn to use your upper body strength.' What they should be saying is, 'Here is your wheelchair, but concentrate on your body as a whole and strengthen it as a whole, because you never know'."
Marlene Belliveau, Windsor, Nova Scotia

Amy Paradis’s life changed forever in 2009 when she was injured in a car crash that left her paralyzed. But she plans to walk again with the aid of an Ekso exoskeleton.
Amy Paradis’s life changed forever in 2009 when she was injured in a car crash that left her paralyzed. But she plans to walk again with the aid of an Ekso exoskeleton. (CBC)
"I don't know how to put today into words. I was stunned by it."
Amy Paradis
Amy Paradis, at age 16, was involved in a car accident that left her spine damaged to the extent that she will no longer function as she had once, before the accident that crushed her upper spine. That happened to her on Boxing Day 2009 when she'd gone out on a brief errand with a friend. An accident caused their car to flip and that brief moment in time changed the young girl's life forever.

The Ekso Bionics bionic suit represents complex gear at 20 kilos, powered by lithium batteries with small motors at the hips and knees, body sensors and a small computer. Someone wishing to use the suit straps it at the back and the legs. When body weight is shifted as a person would do to begin moving forward on their legs, that action activates the suit, enabling the wearer to walk for the three hours of the battery charge.

The bionics suit was developed and engineered in a robotics laboratory at the University of California. It was funded by the U.S. Defense Department, enabling a robotics team at Berkeley to invent an exoskeleton suit so military personnel could lift hundreds of pounds of gear over long distances. That succeeded, and the engineering team turned their attention to an adapted version for people confined to wheelchairs, so they could walk again.

Ekso bionic suit
Ekso is a wearable exoskeleton that fits over a person’s clothes. Walking is achieved as the user’s weight shifts, which activates sensors in the suit prompting forward steps. (Ekso)

Four years after Amy's devastating accident that changed her from physical independence to physical incapacity, she was outfitted with this miraculous new electronic/mechanical device that gave her the freedom to move her legs again. The cost of the suit, around $100,000 won't be accessible to everyone confined to a wheelchair, but some fortunate few will have the pleasure of using it and valuing its usefulness to them.

The community in which Amy lives stepped up to the job of raising the funding required to secure that exoskeleton-electronic suit for one of their own. Amy's suit is one of only two of its amazing (and expensive) kind in Canada, with 75 of the suits being used worldwide. A lot of community effort in sales and fundraisers of all kinds went into the acquisition of that suit.

And a lot of determined physical exercise on Amy's part went into making her body fit enough physically to be able to wear the suit and use it to her best advantage. Her first walking excursion with the suit, left her speechless with wonder and happiness. She had vowed she would walk again some day, and now she is doing just that.

It isn't the end of her journey to recover, though. Amy is intent on somehow, some day, re-acquiring the bodily strength, skills and the rehabilitation of her spine injury to enable her to walk again, unassisted by any mechanical-electronic device, other than her brain and her prodigious efforts to overcome her handicap.

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