On average, it happens every hour of every day – someone suffers a spinal cord injury** that can leave them paralyzed for life. An innovative device from the Christopher Reeve Foundation is helping some patients get out of their wheelchairs and back on their feet.
Aaron Wolfe has lived in this wheelchair for more than two years – ever since a robber’s bullet hit his spine and paralyzed his legs. Now he spends every day trying to get out of it. Thanks to a new device, he’s doing it. Through the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation, Aaron is undergoing therapy at Ohio State University Medical Center. Here, a specialized device supports Aaron’s weight, while therapists move his legs for him on a treadmill. In a matter of months, Aaron has gone from a wheelchair to a walker. By continuing to use this machine, Aaron’s confident someday he’ll get out of his wheelchair for good.
“I could never really get much out of this left leg. Now, my left leg is firing. It steps with the right one now,” says Wolfe.
That’s because the walking machine uses what’s called loco-Motor training. Researcher Michele Basso says even if patients do very little of the work at first, putting them through a walking motion can spark a kind of memory in their muscles.
“If you provide the right kind of sensory information into the spinal cord, it will recognize it and say ‘Oh, I remember what that is, that’s walking!’ and it starts to organize itself and produce walking,” says Basso.
In fact, in clinical trials on certain types of spinal cord injuries,* the device has helped 9 out of 10 patients walk in some form – and that may just be part of their success.
“We expect to see better core strength, better balance, better cardio respiratory function, fewer and less voluntary muscle movements,” says Basso.
The device is being used on patients with “incomplete” spinal cord injuries. That means they still have at l east some feeling below the waist.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Center at Ohio State University Medical Center is one of only seven sites in the country using this device.
*Device is used on patients with “incomplete” spinal cord injuries- those with at least some feelings below the waist.