On January 17, 2002, I suffered a snowmobiling accident that turned my world upside down.
I will never forget being told that, as a result of the T-12 spinal injury, I may never walk again. It took years to come to terms with life in a wheelchair.
During those early days, I remember researching online about “electronic legs” – leg braces programmed to simulate natural walking. The leg braces connected to a computer, which was worn like a backpack. The backpack held technology to trigger walking. It seemed like science fiction, maybe even too far out to be true. I never really thought that this would be something I’d see or experience for myself.
A few years later, at one of my physical therapy  sessions at Good Shepherd, I heard about the Ekso Bionics' exoskeleton . It sounded a lot like what I read about – and it was coming to Allentown. That sci-fi idea could now be a reality. I knew that I had to get into this equipment. I had to see what it could do for me, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get there.
I kicked my workouts into a higher gear. I worked out longer and more strategically. For eight months, I stretched more, and I loosened my body up. Then last year, I became the first to use the Ekso exoskeleton  at Good Shepherd’s Allentown campus.
It was a surreal experience. I remember looking at the machine for the first time. I knew what I was supposed to do, and I knew what it was supposed to do. What I didn’t know was what I was in store for – a life-changing experience!
My first experience with the Ekso was like an explosion. It just took off. I stood up, focused on my balance and let the machine do the work. It was like a blindfolded roller coaster ride. When I left Good Shepherd that day, I distinctly remember the feeling that significant progress had been made, and, I was just getting started! New hope was put back into me that day.
A week later, I got into the pool for one of my regular aquatic therapy sessions and noticed something special. I could kick my leg out – something I couldn’t do before getting in the Ekso. Not very quickly or with incredible strength, but I could kick my leg out. I was elated.
Since then, my regular physical therapy sessions have taken quite a turn. The specialists and I work on all sorts of things with the Ekso – from balance to range of motion to maintaining strength. Since the technology is as new to us as we are to it, we even experiment and try new exercises. We simply go with what works best for me. The Ekso was originally brought to Good Shepherd for enhanced maintenance and conditioning, but now I’m using it for strengthening!
I’ve experienced another unexpected, but beneficial, side effect. Bladder infections used to be common for me (as they are for many spinal cord injury patients), but I haven’t had one since using the Ekso. This has kept me out of the hospital, and has saved me, and my insurance company, significant money.
It took a while for me to accept being in a wheelchair, and I have indeed accepted it. But I’m not giving up. I have renewed hope. I’ve seen improvements that some might have once thought were unreachable.
Three times a week, I go to Good Shepherd for these state-of-the-art therapy sessions. And, as much as I love monitoring my own improvements and condition, I want to be a guiding light for some of the other patients here. Everyone who has had a spinal cord injury wants what they once had back, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than being a first-hand example for those in my shoes.
I want other patients to realize that giving up is never an option. There is hope. We all need to set realistic goals and figure out what works best for each of us. The Ekso at Good Shepherd is working for me.
For more information, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422) or contact Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network .