When Marty first came to Texas Rehabilitation Hospital Fort Worth with a spinal cord injury, she was able to walk just 12 feet with assistance of the rehab gym’s parallel bars. She left a little more than two weeks later, walking more than 300 feet out the front door with the help of only a walker.

Alicia came to Texas Rehab as an incomplete paraplegic following a blood clot in her spine. She, too, was eventually able to walk out of the hospital with only the help of a walker.

Both Marty and Alicia are two of a growing number whose recovery benefitted from the use of the Ekso GT™ suit, a wearable, bionic exoskeleton that assists people in re-learning to walk and in many cases building the strength needed to walk independently. Texas Rehab was the first facility in the Dallas Fort Worth area to offer Ekso, and is one of three Kindred facilities across the country using the tool today to assist in therapy.

Bionic Suit Speeds Recovery for Patients at Texas Rehabilitation Hospital Fort Worth  600

Specially trained therapists use this unique technology to help people regain mobility after experiencing a stroke, spinal cord injury or Guillain-Barre syndrome. The device has delivered promising results since Texas Rehab started using it in 2017, according to Alishia Schmitt, Assistant Director of Therapy. The Fort Worth inpatient rehabilitation facility is jointly operated with Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services.

“Every patient is different,” Schmitt said. “Sometimes it jump starts them, sometimes it doesn’t. But, I’ve seen some patients, who were walking with the aid of two people, walk by themselves after a week’s time with this machine. They probably would have gotten there eventually, but they got there much faster and walked much better with the device.”

Therapists fit the robotic, wearable device to each person’s legs and torso. The Ekso can be set for normal walking as well as side steps, back steps, standing exercises, resistance walking and squats. It can provide assistance or resistance, depending on individual needs.

The device not only teaches people to walk the right way, but it also has sensors that give feedback to show what level of assistance the machine is providing versus what the person is doing. Therapists can then adjust the Ekso as progress is made.

The Ekso is typically used two to three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes a session. Schmitt says people are usually surprised when they strap into the device for the first time.

“They think it’s going to walk for them, and usually are pretty surprised when they realize how much they have to work,” she said.

“I’m not going to tell you it was easy, because it wasn’t – it was hard,” Marty recalled. “There were several times I thought, I just want to sit down. But, I wasn’t going to do that.”

For Alicia, the possibilities overshadowed any surprise about the amount of effort the Ekso machine required for her to use.

“The Ekso is different because it actually gave me a feeling of walking again, and nothing else could do that,” said Alicia. “I was standing. I had my feet on the floor, and my legs were moving. It is hard to find hope when you are in the depths of despair, and the Ekso gave me hope.

“You have to have hope. Without hope, I don’t know if I would have gotten to this day.”

Learn more about inpatient rehabilitation services or call 1.866.KINDRED (1.866.546.3733) to speak with a Registered Nurse about care options in your area 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By Mike Ogburn