Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

An exoskeleton put to work



A robotic exoskeleton allows Ruth Aragon, paralyzed from the waist down, to walk normally as Frank Hyland, executive director and administrator of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown, looks on.

Those gathered outside the Inn at Barley Sheaf Farm in Holicong gasped, almost in unison, as they watched a young woman paralyzed from the waist down walk normally across the flagstone patio.

Leaving her wheelchair behind, Ruth Aragon of Allentown donned a bionic suit and demonstrated the newest technological development for those who have suffered spinal injuries, strokes or lost limbs.

Ruth was wearing a robotic exoskeleton, a device that actually bridges the gap between science fiction and reality.

It was probably the most dramatic moment at the farm since playwright George S. Kaufman owned it. He and his wife, Bea, lived there and entertained their Broadway and Hollywood associates in the 1930s and 1940s. Kaufman wrote “George Washington Slept Here,” and the Man Who Came to Dinner,” both plays based in Bucks County.

Ruth and her therapist, Charlene Kreider of Lenhartsville, had been brought to the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce’s Global Executive Briefing by Frank Hyland, executive director and administrator of Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown.

Hyland, guest speaker at the luncheon, has received many awards including a Medal of Commendation from the International Congress of Forensic Science for his role in developing rehabilitation programs in Bosnia and Croatia.

“Rehabilitation has been changing dramatically for stroke victims and those with spinal cord injuries,” Hyland told the CEOs attending the event which was co-sponsored by Hatboro Federal Savings and Hill Wallach LLP.

Hyland joined Good Shepherd in 1981 and, serving in various capacities, has developed multiple clinical programs. Two years ago he received the Lifetime Achievement Healthcare Heroes Award from Lehigh Valley Business.

Hyland said Ruth, who was injured in a snowmobile accident two years earlier, “has no sensation below the waist.”

In a case such as hers, he said, the affected area loses neuroplasticity, but the robot allows a person to walk normally. “It simulates normal movement over and over and that allows increasing blood flow,” he said. It is beneficial for a spinal injury patient, as well as for stroke victims who have lost the use of a limb.

“Walking reciprocally reinforces that motion every day, allowing a person to reach their goals and maximize recovery,” he said. “For stroke victims, brains can heal themselves to some degree” and the robot suits provide further help.

This specific type of suit, a wearable exoskeleton, is made by Ekso Bionics in Glendale, Calif. It enables a person to stand up and walk on the ground with a full weight-bearing reciprocal gait, according to the manufacturer. Designed for rehabilitation institutions, it provides adaptable amounts of power to either side of the patient’s body. The technology provides the patient the ability to mobilize early in his or her recovery.

Good Shepherd is one of only a few rehabilitation hospitals in this country using the exoskeleton, but globally it is being used in 115 rehab centers. The exoskeleton has allowed patients to take 41 million steps.

Each year about 375,000 people worldwide suffer spinal cord injuries and about 17 million suffer strokes. An estimated 60 percent of acute stroke survivors are unable to walk. This often leaves them dependent on others. It also limits their participation in social activities and produces a poorer quality of life.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net

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