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Lehigh Valley rehab practice’s new exoskeleton makes it possible for some patients to walk again


For patients with certain types of spinal injuries, having a chance to walk again is a distant goal. But now it's more attainable for patients at one Lehigh Valley rehabilitation practice.

The Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, which is based in Allentown and has locations across eastern Pennsylvania, is the third facility in the country to receive a bionic device that enables wheelchair users to walk. The exoskeleton made by Ekso Bionics straps onto a patient's legs and back. Patients use crutches to stand and walk.

The exoskeleton fits most people who stand between 5 feet, 2 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and weigh no more than 220 pounds. Patients also have to be able to push up with their arms and grasp with their hands well enough to use a walker, among other requirements.

Sue Golden, Good Shepherd's director of neurorehabilitation, says the exoskeleton can allow people who have completely severed spinal cords to walk forward, although they can't turn. Those whose spinal cords have less extensive injuries might be able to relearn how to walk by using the device. The idea is that if a person's body goes through the motions of walking often enough, the brain could remember how to do it. The exoskeleton can also benefit some patients with conditions like multiple sclerosis and inflammation of the spinal cord.

Good Shepherd received its exoskeleton earlier this month and plans to use it as part of four patients' treatment plans. “I think it's giving them a renewed purpose, and it's great to see,” Golden says.

Source: Sue Golden, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen

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