'Bionic' suit helps paralyzed patients walk again'Bionic' suit helps paralyzed patients walk again
A special “bionic’ suit is changing the lives of patients who are suffering from partial paralysis and unable to walk.
Brian Flanagan, 26, was in an ATV accident two years ago that left him with a severed spinal cord. Within days, surgeons told him he would probably never walk again.
"Being in a bed for six months leaves a lot of time to think so I spent a lot of time at first denying it, hoping it would all go away,” Flanagan told TODAY’s Tom Costello. An avid outdoorsman, Flanagan wanted his life back. Paralysis, however, rarely goes away.
Flanagan is now able to stand and push his hips and legs forward using a motorized system called “ReWalk,” which features computers and motion sensors to help paralyzed patients move. Forearm crutches are needed for balance.
As Flanagan works with a physical therapist at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation Center — one of 14 hospitals across the country using the robotic exoskeleton — he may eventually be able to not only stand and move, but climb up and down stairs.
His reaction to his first chance to walk again?
"It's great!” says Flanagan.”I was 6'4" so I'm used to looking down on people and staring over the crowd. So, being in a wheel chair is a lot different...looking up to everybody."
The ReWalk body suit was developed by Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies. In 2012, paralyzed athlete Claire Lomas completed the London marathon in 16 days using ReWalk bionic legs.
About 273,000 people in the United States were living with spinal cord injuries in 2013, according to the most recent data from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center at the University of Alabama. Over 80 percent of people with spinal cord injuries are men, with nearly half of the injuries occurring between the ages of 16 and 30.
Most of those injured are men, and many are between ages 16 and 30. Motor vehicle accidents and falls are the most common causes of spinal cord injury.
"Psychologically, just to get up again is a big deal for people who've suffered a spinal cord injury," says Dr. Peter Gorman, University of Maryland Rehab and Ortho Institute.
Being able to stand and move also benefits internal organs, digestion and muscle tone.
The ReWalk robotic walking system is not the only technology giving hope to people with spinal cord injuries. In April, researchers announced astonishing results from an implanted electrical stimulator retraining patients’ spinal nerves to work with the brain again, despite terrible damage. ReWalk, however, does not use electrical impulses and nothing is connected to a patient’s nerves or muscles.
The promise of being able to walk again is “paramount” for paralyzed patients, says Jerry Morgan, physical therapist at the University of Maryland Rehab and Ortho Institute.
“For people like Brian who’ve suffered this terrible injury, hope is important,” says Morgan.
Katie Couric Interviews Bionic Arm Inventor Dean Kamen
Back in 1980, when Luke Skywalker was fitted with a robotic limb after losing his hand in the film "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back," it was pure science fiction. But what was once fantasy is now a reality.
Inventor Dean Kamen and his team at DEKA Research and Development, based in New Hampshire, have developed "Luke," a robotic prosthetic arm, aptly nicknamed after Luke Skywalker. The arm is considered a game changer for amputees. "Instead of giving them a metal hook that they can't do anything with, what if we can give them a bunch of grips to do the things you do in daily living? Pick up a spoon or pick up an electric drill or open a door," says Kamen.
The idea first came about when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) approached Kamen about building a better prosthetic for soldiers who have lost an arm in combat. "They said, 'Give us a real hand that works, that has all the fingers and the thumb that can move in every direction. Give us an arm that really functions,'" says Kamen.
The Luke Arm is the first prosthetic arm that can perform multiple, simultaneous powered movements controlled by Bluetooth sensors. The sensors are approximately the size of a matchbook and can be placed in the arm wearer's shoe. The arm has six different grips, and the movements are controlled with a roll or tip of the foot.
Kamen and his team spent eight years developing the arm, and recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for sale. There is no price quote yet, and Kamen says looking for companies to produce the robotic arms will be a challenge. "Since the market is so small … none of the major medical companies that we deal with, and I know them all very well, have been able to come up with a business plan that makes this an attractive product to make," Kamen says.
Kamen is no stranger to taking on projects big or small. All his inventions have one common theme: They tackle a problem in education, health care or the environment and try to use technology to solve the problem. He holds more than 400 patents and has invented many things, including a water purifier called the Slingshot, the iBOT powered wheelchair, and the first portable insulin pump. But Kamen's most recognizable invention is the Segway. A two-wheeled, battery-powered electric vehicle, like the one seen in the film "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." When asked which project he is the proudest of, Kamen replies, "We haven't done our best project yet, because every day we get bigger and smarter and stronger, and we take on the next big challenge. I like to look forward, not back. So I can't tell you what our favorite project is, because it hasn't happened yet."