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New Exoskeleton Allows Mobility for Victims of Spinal Cord Injuries

According to news-medical.com, the Center for Intelligent Mechatronics at Vanderbilt University has developed a light weight, compact exoskeleton that allows spinal cord injury victims paralyzed below the waist to stand up, walk and even climb stairs.

New Technology

Technological developments that have taken place in the last 10 years in the fields of robotics, microelectronics, batteries and electric motors have allowed for the development of the exoskeleton. In fact, Parker Hannifin Corporation, a World leader in motion and control technologies, has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Vanderbilt University for the development of a commercial version of the exoskeleton, which they hope to introduce in 2014.

Somewhere between 236,000 and 327,00 people in the United States live with serious spinal cord injuries and about 155,000 have paraplegia.

A “wearable robot”, as these devices are known, is like an external skeleton that straps tightly around the torso, has rigid supports strapped to the legs that extend from the hips to the knee and from the knee to the foot. The joints at the knees and hips are driven by computer-controlled electric motors powered by advanced batteries and patients have to use a walker or forearm crutches to help maintain their balance. Basically, if the patient wearing the exoskeleton leans forward, the device makes him or her move forward. If the patient leans back and holds that position for a few seconds, the device makes him or her sit. If the patient leans forward and holds that position for a few seconds while sitting, the device makes him or her stand up.

Brian Shaffer, a victim that was completely paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident on Christmas night 2010, says that although it takes concentration to use at first, once the patient catches up, it is not hard because the device does all the work. Mr. Shaffer adds that he does not expect the device to completely replace his wheelchair, it will come very handy in situations where the wheelchair would not work, like when walking a daughter down the aisle or sitting in the bleachers watching a son play football.
Yet, this technology is not only about allowing victims to attend social events. According to Claire Hartigan, a physical therapist at Shepherd Center, one of the nation’s leading hospitals for spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation, just getting victim’s bodies upright can pay major health dividends, like avoiding the serious problems that lack of mobility causes to their urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems, as well as to avoid getting osteoporosis, pressure sores and blood clots.

Expensive New Technology

The Vanderbilt exoskeleton is not the only device of its kind. Yet, at 27 pounds it is the lightest one (as compared to the other models that weigh around 45 pounds) and has a modular and slimmer design that allows for patients to carry it on the back of their wheelchairs and to put it on (or take it off) by themselves as needed. Moreover, the Vanderbilt design has two distinctive and very important advantages over the competition: (1) The amount of robotic assistance adjusts automatically for users with some muscle control in their legs, allowing them to use their own muscles while walking. When the user is completely paralyzed, then the device does all the work. (2) It is the only device that incorporates a proven rehabilitation technology known as functional electrical stimulation (FES) that applies small electrical impulses to paralyzed muscles making them contract and relax. FES improves strength in the legs of patients with incomplete paraplegia while it improves circulation, changes bone density and reduces muscle atrophy in those with complete paraplegia.

However, these devices are not cheap. Other exoskeletons have a price tag as high as $140,000.00, plus a considerable annual service fee. Parker Hannifin has not set a price for Vanderbilt’s device yet and it is hoped that a combination of the device’s minimalist design with the company’s manufacturing ability will translate into a more affordable price. However, for victims of spinal cord injuries caused by accidents, the hope to buy one of these devices may lay only with a lawyer experienced handling this kind of cases getting them the funds needed from the wrongdoer that caused their injury.

The Lawyers of Greenberg Stone and Urbano Can Help

The lawyers at Greenberg Stone and Urbano have more than 70 years of combined experience helping victims of spinal cord injuries resulting from car accidents, motorcycle accidents, tractor-trailer accidents, accidents at amusement parks or any other kind of accident caused by someone else’s negligence recover the compensation that may be owed to them. If you or a loved one have suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a car accident, a motorcycle accident, a tractor-trailer accident, an accident at an amusement park or any other kind of accident, you should immediately contact a law firm experienced in handling these cases.

Throughout the years, the Miami Dade County Car Accidents Law Offices of Greenberg, Stone & Urbano, have represented many clients involved in serious motor vehicle accidents that have caused spinal cord injuries. Please visit our website to learn more about our firm and contact us today for a free consultation.

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