If you suffered a stroke or paralyzing injury in 1949—the year G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre (GFS) first opened—treatment at the time would have ranged from electric currents and heavy steel braces to massage and mineral baths. Sixty-five years later rehabilitation has drastically evolved thanks to the donation of an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton to GFS, which is helping to rehabilitate patients with mobility impairments.
Ekso is a robotic exoskeleton used by therapists in rehabilitation settings to help individuals with lower-extremity weakness or paralysis stand and walk, either with the help of the device or as a tool to help them learn to walk again on their own.
Currently, physiotherapists at GFS have been using the Ekso with patients who have some ability to walk in order to improve their gait. Robert Thomas, a rehabilitation outpatient who was one of the first to use the Ekso at GFS, said, “It feels great to stand tall.”
“Research is beginning to show that being upright and walking in an Ekso can possibly alleviate secondary complications, not to mention the impact it has on a patient’s self-esteem and well-being,” says Dr. Andrea Townson, GFS’s physical medicine and rehabilitation medical lead. “It’s one useful tool in a physiotherapist’s toolbox that can help clients on a number of levels.”
Bridging Bionics Foundation, a non-profit corporation focused on providing funding, education, and advancing research and development for powered exoskeletons for medical applications, donated the Ekso to GFS for rehabilitation purposes last year. The only other Ekso in the province is located at iCord at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre and is used exclusively for research purposes.