Bionic suit helps Windsor woman walk again

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Amy Paradis is pictured standing for the first time in four years using the Ekso Bionics Exoskeleton. 

By Ashley Thompson

TC•Media

Amy Paradis’ new suit was made for walkin’.

And that’s just what she’ll do.

Paradis, who was paralyzed in a car accident in 2009, spent five days learning to walk in the Ekso Bionics Exoskeleton at the end of March.

A trainer from California visited FootPrints SCI-Recovery in Windsor, a non-profit spinal cord recovery centre Paradis operates with her mother, Marlene Belliveau, to teach the 20-year-old how to walk in the bionic suit.

Belliveau says all eyes were intently fixed on Paradis when it came time for her to stand in the exoskeleton for the first time.

“The first second she stood everybody just lost it,” said Belliveau, who remembers staring at her daughter with amazement at the life-changing moment.

“I mean, we were all in tears – and then she started to walk.”

Once told she’d never walk again, Paradis didn’t want to stop once she started.

“They typically will do between 150 and 200 steps on that first day - she did 730,” said Belliveau.

Paradis took about 3,900 steps in the exoskeleton during the training week, proving her body is strong enough to bear weight and benefit from the technology.

“To her it’s just like putting on a pair of pants,” said Belliveau.

Like anyone who dons an exoskeleton, Paradis had to pass an assessment stage before wearing the bionic suit.

Paradis devotes much of her time to completing intense exercises to improve her strength and motor function.

She’s recovered enough core strength to sit up in a chair without falling back and grip a crutch or walker while using the exoskeleton.

“This machine does not hold her up. She holds herself up,” Belliveau noted.

One function of the exoskeleton instructs the battery-powered suit to initiate the steps, while another setting allows Paradis to call the shots by shifting her body weight to take a step.

Belliveau says using the exoskeleton could help Paradis learn to walk again by conditioning her central nervous system and essentially “reminding her brain” how to initiate steps.

The goal of the first training session was to teach Paradis how to use the suit comfortably. A second training block has been booked in May to teach trainers how to spot Paradis when she is walking in the bionic suit.

Belliveau says FootPrints staff will know how to determine if a client is ready to strap the exoskeleton on and go for a stroll once the training is complete.

So far, Paradis is the only Canadian selected to use the suit for a one-year trial study that will aid in the development an exoskeleton that can be used in the home.

FootPrints, the second facility of its kind in Canada to acquire the exoskeleton, is in the process of trying to raise $75,000 US to pay for the technology.

Rose Real Estate is hosting a gently used jewelry, scarf and handbag sale at the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre in Windsor on May 10 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to raise money for the purchase of the exoskeleton.

Donations can also be placed online through http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/-let-s-get-amy-walking-/138717 or http://sci-recovery.ca/

Geographic location: California, Windsor, Canada US

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