Vancouver, BC – If you suffered a stroke or paralyzing injury in 1949—the year G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre 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.
“Thanks to the generous donation of this state-of-the-art device, B.C. continues to be at the leading edge of research and services for British Columbians living with impaired mobility,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “The bionic exoskeleton is a great example of advances that are being made in the development of technology to improve patient outcomes.”
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. 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.
“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.”
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.”
“Exoskeletons are complex pieces of technology that bring together mechanical, software and electrical engineering with rehabilitation knowledge,” Dr. Townson says. “Through the Ekso, we’re providing people with varying degrees of physical limitation a new and unique opportunity to stand and walk.”
GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre is the largest rehabilitation hospital in British Columbia, the home of the UBC Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a training site for the UBC physical therapy and occupational therapy training programs. It provides inpatient, outpatient, outreach and clinical support services to patients across BC and the Yukon who are suffering from acquired brain injury, spinal cord injury, arthritis and neuromusculoskeletal injuries.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.2 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Viola Kaminski, Public Affairs Officer
Vancouver Coastal Health