This was a dilemma Matt Ficarra, a paraplegic, was facing a dilemma as his wedding day was fast approaching. Ficarra expressed that it never crossed his mind that he would be rolling down the aisle in his wheelchair at his very own wedding. Although he is paralyzed from the neck down, he can still move much of his upper body including his arms. He also gained back little feeling on his lower extremities, giving hope that he may walk again.
Five months prior to his big day, Ficarra took physical therapy sessions at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network. Here, patients are assisted by a robotic machine called Ekso.
Ekso is just one of many futuristic suits developed by Ekso Bionics, a company that produces robotic exoskeletons not only for individuals with limited mobility but also for military purposes. It is a bionic suit that enhances the user’s strength and mobility. The state-of-the-art bionic suit allows wheelchair users to stand and even walk without too much effort and energy.
The bionic exoskeleton helps users walk by a sensor that is triggered by the shift in the wearer’s weight causing the suit, put simply, to walk for the wearer. This is made possible by electric motors moving the lower extremities in replacement of the neuromuscular function.
Other specific features of Ekso are:
- It helps people with weaker forearms to get up and walk. This is a plus for users that dislike the use of crutches.
- It basically teaches users to walk by helping them learn simple step patterns and shifting of weight with the use of a based platform. This is very helpful for those who have been using wheelchairs for quite a long time.
- It has a step generator software that helps first time users to walk.
- It offers multiple stages or modes, from first-time walking or the Firststep where the therapist controls the device and the user gradually starts to stand up and then walk with the help of crutches or walker. The next setting is Activestep where the user now controls the steps. And lastly is the Prostep, this is when the user walks on their own and the suit is now merely assisting.
Once the user passes all the necessary medical tests, he can now use Ekso. The device is strapped on to the user’s clothes and it is ready to go.
With determination, Ficarra recorded the most number of steps made using Ekso in an hour in the specific hospital. He has made quite a feat given the fact that he just underwent the treatment for only a few months. And on October 13 he slowly yet proudly walked down the aisle with a little assistance from his therapist.
The device is still not available for home use until the summer of next year and will cost $130,000. Ficarra is hoping to own one and he has a fundraiser to help him raise the amount.
Technology has really done what were considered miracles before. But the device will only serve its purpose if you are determined to help yourself. And just like Matt, the dream to walk again is reachable.