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Wearable robot helps local paraplegics walk

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ENCINITAS, Calif. – A wearable robot first designed to aid soldiers carry heavy weight is now being used locally to help people with spinal cord injuries walk.  Jeremy McGhee’s life changed forever eleven years ago when he was involved in a motorcycle accident in Point Loma.

“(I) broke my back, spinal cord injury left me paralyzed amongst many other injuries,” he said.

robotMcGhee usually does what he wants.  He plays sports and goes skiing, but there are smaller every day activities he can’t do.

“It would be cool to go to a show,  stand-up in the crowd, go out to dinner, hug somebody standing up,” he said.   “That would be pretty cool.  Change a light bulb, that`d be nice.”

He is now taking steps toward that goal, literally.  Inside the Scripps Rehabilitation Center in Encinitas, McGhee put on an Ekso device. Doctors say it’s the first device that allows paraplegics to walk on their own, without assistance.

“They don’t really allow a person to get up and move essentially on their own,” said Dr. Michael Lobatz of the other devices out there.  “With training, an individual can manipulate the (Ekso) device and use the device without a therapist present.”

Dr. Lobatz is a Neurologist and Medical Director of the Scripps Rehabilitation Center in Encinitas.

“All of a sudden, instantly, I’m at eye level with everybody which is cool,” said McGhee while walking across the rehabilitation center with the aid of therapists.

It will take time and practice before he is able to walk on his own.

“I’m stoked to be weight bearing and moving my legs.  It’s building bone density,” he said.

The device is the only one in San Diego County.   The Rehabilitation Center received the $100,000 robot through the LaVerne and Blaine Briggs Fund.  It’s being used by five patients as a therapy tool currently but people at the hospital hope someday patients will use it in their everyday lives.

“It would be cool if it’s capable of letting me someday cruise around every day with it,” said McGhee.  “Someday it will be there, I’m sure.  It has come so far so fast.”

The device uses a system of cables and motors that can be managed by a controller in the patient’s hand.  It works by transferring weight to the ground instead of a person’s body.

“I have to slow down,” said McGhee.   “That’s the hard part for me.  I want to run across the room.”

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