Ekso Offers Hope to Stroke Patient from New Jersey
Two years ago Michele Blivin of Vineland, New Jersey, then 52 years old, suffered a massive bilateral stroke (affecting both hemispheres of her brain) that left her unable to talk, walk, hold her head up or use her hands. A hard-working entrepreneur, avid hiker and mountain climber, Michele tackled her recovery with the same energy and enthusiasm that she handled everything in her life. After spending several months in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital and continuing her therapy on an outpatient basis, Michele began to regain some of her mobility.
However, she was still unable to walk. When her daughter saw a news item about the work Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania is doing with stroke patients using the Ekso bionic exoskeleton, she immediately contacted the facility. The Ekso is a wearable bionic suit that enables individuals with lower extremity paralysis or weakness to stand and walk. Battery powered motors drive the legs and augment neuro-muscular function.
Good Shepherd is the first rehabilitation facility in North America to offer the Ekso with Variable Assist software, which allows clinicians to augment their patients’ strength by tuning the amount of power contributed to either leg, making it ideal for people who have suffered hemiparesis (weakness) due to stroke, like Michele.
Now Michele is traveling several hours roundtrip twice a week to Good Shepherd, using the Ekso to stand up and walk and offering her hope that she may someday walk on her own again. After just a few weeks of therapy, she says her core muscles feel stronger and she is able to move from a sitting to standing position more easily. She recently walked more than 500 steps in the Ekso in one therapy session.
“When I was unable to clasp my hand well enough to brush my teeth, I kept repeating the motion. Eventually I was able to brush my teeth. The same concept can be applied to walking. While the Ekso is helping me now, I am repeating the motions over and over, until someday it will be all me taking steps.”
“This concept of repetitive motions leading to the return of mobility is the theory of neuroplasticity,” says Sue Golden, director of Neurorehabilitation at Good Shepherd. “By reproducing movements over and over, something a therapist may not be able to do without the aid of technology like the Ekso, we are seeking to rewire the brain and re-establish neural connections,” she says.
Michele’s commitment to recovery is astounding. On days where she isn’t making the trip to Allentown, she works out 3 to 4 hours a day in her home gym. Her religious faith plays a strong role in her life, fueling her optimism.
“Using the Ekso has given me hope. Failure isn’t an option for me,” she says.