A battery-operated bionic walking suit or wearable robot is
enabling South Africans with spinal cord injuries to stand and walk again.
Incredible technology and engineering, the clinical rehabilitation tool is
being used at Just Walk Bionics, an advanced rehabilitation centre based in
Opened in June 2013 by incomplete quadriplegic Justin Smith,
Just Walk Bionics is Ekso Bionics? official reference centre in South Africa
and the only centre of its kind in Southern Africa. After being shot in his C6
cervical vertebrae in a near-fatal car hijacking, Smith began his journey to
recovery in 2004 and walked again in 2007. Believing in the inherent benefits
associated with walking again after years in a wheelchair, opening the rehabilitation
centre is part of a long-term vision for Smith.
The only FDA and CE* approved bionic exoskeleton available,
this technological marvel is changing the lives of wheelchair bound patients,
including those with neurological disorders such as MS, ALS, and Guillain
Barre, Parkinson’s disease, and generalised weakness caused by other
conditions. In future, it may also be used for patients who have suffered a
The user needs arm function and adequate upper extremity
strength to manage crutches or a walker as determined during the clinical
evaluation. Patients, who can transfer independently from a wheelchair to a
chair, are between 150-190cm (5’2” – 6’2”) tall and weigh 100kg (220lbs) or
less, are the most likely candidates.
The benefits of walking again after years of confinement are
wide-ranging and Smith says that walking in the suit is addictive. “Being
mobile, changing your perspective and being able to look people in the eye
again evokes feelings that are hard to describe unless you’ve been there.
Experiences that able-bodied individuals would not think twice about, the
psychological benefits of walking again using the Ekso cannot be downplayed.”
Beyond the psychological benefits, anecdotal evidence
suggests that the use of the Ekso has other significant rehabilitative
benefits. These include decreases in spasticity, chronic systemic pain, and
UTIs, while some patients also experience better overall bladder and bowel
function. Metabolic and cardio benefits have also been seen.
All candidates must be screened and cleared as medically
appropriate by a physician prior to walking in the suit. They are then
evaluated by biokineticists Justin Jeffery and Charl Kaschula, who have
received extensive clinical training from Ekso Bionics in rehabilitating patients
using the Ekso.
Justin Jeffery says: “Most patients are able to master the
suit in two to three, one hour sessions, but this varies from patient to
patient. An experienced user can fit or remove the suit in less than five
minutes and expect to walk for up to 50mins in an hour long session”.
Strapped over the patients clothing battery-powered motors
drive the legs and replace neuromuscular function. Motors power the hip and
knee joints, and all motion is initiated through the use of an external controller.
The current model can only be used on flat surfaces but
future generation suits may have the ability to navigate steps. While the
current device is a rehabilitation tool, in time personal units will be
available through Just Walk Bionics.
A centre that is redefining mobility and redefining hope for
wheelchair-bound patients, Smith is sharing the benefits of his journey with
South Africans in a similar position. In addition to rehabilitation with the
Ekso, the centre provides non-traditional exercise-based therapy to individuals
suffering from spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders.
For further information, visit www.justwalkbionics.co.za, or
join us on Facebook: JustWalkBioinics.