News / Edmonton

Robotic exoskeleton a step towards mobility for Glenrose patients

The wearable robot can now be used to help paralyzed pediatric patients stand on their feet

16-year-old Hussain Alhussainy, who has cerebral palsy, walks with the assistance of the Ekso GT exoskeleton and physical therapist Georgia Diduck and therapy assistant Kristin Tarnowski.

Omar Mosleh / Metro Order this photo

16-year-old Hussain Alhussainy, who has cerebral palsy, walks with the assistance of the Ekso GT exoskeleton and physical therapist Georgia Diduck and therapy assistant Kristin Tarnowski.

A wearable robot is helping more patients at Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital make a stand, quite literally.

The Ekso GT exoskeleton, essentially a battery-operated walker worn by a user and controlled by a therapist, allows people who are paralyzed to stand up and walk. It helps strengthen a patient’s legs and also improves balance, endurance and posture.

“It controls your body but at the same it wants you to put in the work,” said 16-year-old Hussain Alhussainy, a cerebral palsy patient who was one of the first pediatric patients to start using the Ekso earlier this year.

Staff showed off the Ekso Tuesday, as they unveiled plans to use it to help more pediatric patients.

The Ekso has been at the hospital for about three years, but the technology now has new features, which have created new opportunities for adult patients and the ability to expand the rehab technology to pediatric patients.

The new features allow therapists working with a patient to isolate a specific leg and to reduce or add the amount of resistance the robot provides.

“If you’re not able to put in the work, it’s there to assist. So that’s kind of the beauty of the Ekso,” Alhussainy said.

When he’s walking on the machine, it forces him to stand upright, which has helped him reduce slouching.

“It’s had a huge impact on my posture. It’s one of the most effective programs in this hospital, in my opinion,” Alhussainy said.

The Ekso comes at a cost of $112,000, funded by the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. It cost an additional $150,000 for training, staffing and implementation.

So far eight staff members at the hospital are trained to assist patients with the technology, which makes their jobs significantly easier.

“When you’re helping to move a leg, you can have human error,” said Georgia Diduck, a physical therapist. “Whereas the Ekso can really read what the patient is doing and make sure the steps are qood quality steps.”

The robot has also helped speed up the rehabilitation process for patients recovering from injuries that affect their mobility.

Ryan Nicoll suffered a spinal cord injury in Oct. 2016 and spent about five months relearning how to walk with the Ekso.

“When I first started I was a full time wheelchair user. By my last session, I actually walked in to use Ekso … I don’t think I’d be walking today if it wasn’t for it,” he said.

Diduck worked with Nicoll during his rehabilitation and says it likely would have taken a lot longer and required more staff resources without the Ekso.

“I think it probably would have taken a lot longer, because with the Exo we’re able to do more efficient treatment. We can take more steps with fewer therapists doing less work.”

More on Metronews.ca