Spinal Cord Injury Patient Walks Again with Robotic Exoskeleton at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation
There was a light coating of snow on the ground on March 24, 2011 – just enough that Cresco, PA, resident Donny Buchter and his best friend decided to take a snowmobile ride. He didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a decision that would impact the rest of his life.
Shortly after heading out, the snowmobile flipped over, leaving Donny pinned under the enormous machine. Fortunately, his friend escaped unscathed and was able to get help. To this day, Donny credits him with saving his life.
Donny was life flighted to a local acute-care hospital, where he was diagnosed with five broken ribs, a collapsed lung, injured brachial plexus and a broken, dislocated neck that left him paralyzed. The next day, surgeons replaced his C5 vertebrae and performed a fusion to stabilize his spine from C5 down to T1. He spent 34 days in the intensive care unit on a ventilator and was told he would never walk again.
Upon discharge from the hospital, he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia. He was weaned off the ventilator and began the grueling work of therapy.
“I was in bad shape,” says Donny. “I had bed sores on my tailbone, and my blood pressure was all over the place. Simply sitting up was a huge accomplishment.”
After a year and a half of inpatient and later outpatient therapy, Donny experienced his first glimmer of hope – a little wiggle in his big toe.
For Donny, that wiggle was a sign that he could walk again, but he knew he had to find a more advanced, aggressive therapy protocol to help him make the most of it. His search led him to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and the Ekso exoskeleton, a wearable bionic suit that allows individuals with lower extremity weakness to stand up and walk with a natural gait.
By using the Ekso with intense, repetitive work overseen by specially trained therapists, Good Shepherd was reporting success helping spinal cord injury patients. Some who were unable to walk or had difficulty walking were making incredible progress in re-awakening their brains’ signals to their spine and legs.
Before his accident, Donny competed as an amateur national motor cross racer, so he was no stranger to going after what he wanted. He wanted Ekso therapy from Good Shepherd, but before he could start, he had to get himself in better shape, so he exercised at home to increase his strength and flexibility.
During his second appointment at Good Shepherd, his therapists had him suited in the Ekso. He took 75 steps that day - the first steps he had taken in three years.
“The feeling I had taking the first few steps was indescribable,” says Donny. “Even though I had a machine helping me, I was walking. Others told me I would never walk again. Thanks to Good Shepherd, my family and friends, I’m happy to report that they were wrong.”
The improvement he’s made since starting at Good Shepherd is remarkable. Not only has his strength increased, but he’s able to move both of his legs now. Using the Ekso, he generally takes 800 to 1,000 steps per hour and is especially proud of his all-time record of 1,104 steps.
“There is a real positive energy here at Good Shepherd,” says Donny. “It’s not just false hope – it’s real. People need to know that this type of therapy exists.”