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Monday, 10 February 2014

Miracle walking suit

BIONIC MAN: Tetraplegic Andrew Merryweather walks using the Esko Suit BIONIC MAN: Tetraplegic Andrew Merryweather walks using the Esko Suit

The Sport Management Department is involved in ground-breaking training with the Ekso Bionic Suit which enables people with spinal cord injuries to walk.

Developed by Ekso Bionics in London, the Ekso suit is strapped over the user’s clothing with adjustments to suit the patient’s height and weight.

Walking is achieved when the user’s weight shifts and activates sensors in the device which initiate steps. It is the motors which are powered by battery that drive the legs.

Staff members of the department’s Human Performance Lab were recently trained and certified by the company’s London-based trainers to operate the suit.

The suit which is used by the lab’s staff has been hired from the company by Andrew Merryweather, who has been undergoing rehabilitation and therapy in the lab since his accident in 2006 which left him with severe spinal cord injuries.

The suit, one of only two in Africa, has also been tried by other accident survivors free of charge.

“We invited other people with spinal cord injuries and they came to try the Ekso out, including a lady who had not walked for 24 years,” says Dr Sacha West, the lab’s co-ordinator.

West says Merryweather will only have the suit for about a month before he returns to the Ekso Bionics. He has been renting it for $4 200 per month since October, as the suit costs almost R1 million.

“It will be a big shame to lose the suit,” says West.

Merryweather says that since he started training in the suit his body has grown a lot stronger.

“I’m beginning to feel sensation in left foot, my walking pattern has improved and now I can walk in the swimming pool unassisted.”

Written by Kwanele Butana

Email: butanak@cput.ac.za