TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Wearable robotic devices are giving patients back the independence they lost after a spinal cord injury.
Physical therapists at Tampa General Hospital are using an exoskeleton called ReWalk to help get patients with little to no use of their legs back on their feet.
The device provides power to the patient’s hips and legs allowing them to stand, walk, and even climb stairs. The user must depend on crutches to maintain their balance but can otherwise move at any pace they’re comfortable with.
Physical therapists with Tampa General Hospital are currently helping patients learn how to use the device with the goal of making them more independent.
“The first time we got our patient upstanding, he cried, because he was like ‘I haven’t been able to do something like this’, so it’s emotional for all of us,” Dr. Shelby Huerta said.
Huerta believes wearable robotics could eventually become part of standard care for spinal cord injury patients. The device is suitable for paraplegics, so long as they have feeling and control in their torso. It weighs about 50 pounds and runs on a rechargeable battery that can run for up to 8 hours.
“It’s really exciting to get them up and get them walking again,” Huerta said.
The latest ReWalk recently became the first exoskeleton approved for Medicare coverage, beginning in 2024. Doctors hope that will widen the access of patients to the life-changing technology.