Medical Minute 11-2: Bionic Breakthroughs

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

Robotic legs that allow those who never thought they would walk again-to take another step. Although it seems like Sci Fi--it's now reality for Jean Altomari.

"It feels like I'm standing up on my own power."

A Cancun dream vacation turned into a nightmare when a jeep accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Before this motorized exoskeleton-called rewalk--Jean had not taken a step in two years.

"It feels like I am leaning forward. I'm deciding I'm going to stand up. And I just stand up," said Jean Altomari, Paralyzed.

"It has motors that basically move your hips and knees and allows an individual who is paralyzed to walk," said Dr. Alberto Esquenazi, Director MossRehab Gait & Motion Analysis Laboratory and Principle investigator for ReWalk trial.

Patients wear a backpack with a small computer and use a remote control on a wrist device to tell the suit to stand up-- it receives feedback from motion sensors at the joints.

The result has jean moving on her own, but for some of the 118-thousand people in the U.S. who can't use their arms or legs, even moving their wheelchair can be an insurmountable task.

A diving accident left Jason Disanto paralyzed from the shoulders down. Now he's one of the first to test drive new technology that could change his world.

"This is the only technology as far as we know that can help a potential user to access computers, drive wheelchairs control their environment all with one single device," said Maysam Ghovanloo, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology.

It's called tongue drive-an operating system that works through a tiny magnet piercing the tongue. By touching different teeth, the user sends commands through the headset to be processed by a smart phone.

"So to initiate for example, a right command, they would hit their tooth over here on the right side, so (she demonstrates) you know just a simple tap of the tongue," said Erica Sutton, M.A. Study Coordinator, Shepherd Center.

"It's a big deal for anybody who's bound in a wheelchair because it'll give you more independence," said Jason DiSanto, Paralyzed from Shoulders Down.

And that's what both of these game changers are all about.

"It's real exciting."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Paraplegia is paralysis of the legs and lower part of the body. Paraplegia often involves loss of sensation (of pain, temperature, vibration, and position) as well as loss of motion. It may also include paralysis of the bladder and bowel. Paraplegia may be caused by injury to or disease of the lower spinal cord or peripheral nerves or by such brain disorders as cerebral palsy. Some paraplegics are able to walk with the aid of braces and crutches. Quadriplegia involves paralysis of both arms and both legs. Respiration may also be affected if the upper cervical region of the spinal cord is damaged. (

WHEELCHAIRS: Life in a wheelchair carries a hefty healthcare price tag. Serious problems with the urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems are common, as well as osteoporosis, pressure sores and other health-related problems associated with long-term wheelchair use. (

REWALK: Produced by Argo Medical Technologies Ltd., ReWalk does not only restore mobility to people with severe walking impairments, it enables wheelchair users to stand, walk, and climb stairs, restoring upright mobility, quality of life, health, inclusion, and more. It is the first commercially available upright walking technology. Adoption of ReWalk™ by wheelchair users results in significant cost saving at both institutions and private homes. ReWalk™ makes standing devices, stair lifts, bed lifts, and other mobility assistance apparatus redundant. Similarly, ReWalk™ users don't require expensive powered wheelchairs – or the oversize vehicles and devices required to handle them. With ReWalk™, users require only minimal additional mobility assistance – dramatically increasing independence together with cost saving on a yearly basis. There will be two forms of ReWalk, the ReWalk-I, for institutional use, and the ReWalk-P for personal use. The ReWalk-I is currently available at rehabilitation centers in the US and Europe. The ReWalk-P has a sportive look and is intended for a daily use by qualified paraplegics, i.e. after medical examination and successful completion of a training program in a rehabilitation center. As a personal device, the ReWalk™-P can be used indoors and outdoors in almost any urban scenario. The device is not intended for sports or aggressive use. It will be available in the end of 2011. (


Judy Horwitz
Senior Communications Specialist
Albert Einstein Healthcare Network
(215) 456-6767

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