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Hope, One Step At A Time

A little more than nine years ago, Steven Wilkinson went on a motorcycle ride that forever changed his life. On a winding country road, he lost control of his Honda 750 and was thrown 75 feet. He fell with brute force on a battery charger for his motorcycle, breaking his back. The resultant spinal cord injury robbed the then 23-year-old of his ability to walk. The accident and later the death of his brother combined to steal his willpower as well, sweeping him away in a tsunami of depression.

Steven spent two months as an inpatient at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown and about six months as an outpatient. For six years after that, he virtually gave up on himself. “I stuck my head down and didn’t really do anything,” he says. “I started drinking a lot.”

The need for a new wheelchair brought him back into Good Shepherd’s orbit. There, he met other spinal cord-injured patients, among them Jason Angstadt, whose legs were paralyzed after a farm accident. Steven was inspired by Jason’s spirit and the sight of him standing in leg braces, something Steven had yet to accomplish.

Steven quit drinking and resumed his therapy. Years of inactivity spent in a wheelchair had locked up his hips and leg joints, making therapy painful. “You couldn’t even lay my legs straight, my hips were so tight,” he says.

Today, the 32-year-old Dublin resident has an exciting new goal – to walk. And he’s doing just that with help from GoodShepherd’s neurorehabilitation program and an extraordinary piece of technology. Since last March, Steven has been doing weekly therapy sessions using the Ekso exoskeleton. These bionic legs are literally helping people with spinal cord injuries like Steven take their first steps after years of sitting in a wheelchair.

Steven, who is part of a select group known as The Ekso Team, is proud to have recently logged more than 1,000 steps in the Ekso in a single session. But consistency is key to making progress and when Steven exhausted his Medicare benefits, he had to be discharged from therapy.

Fortunately, a $43,000 gift from the Women’s Giving Circle, a philanthropic women’s group at Good Shepherd, established the Ekso Scholarship, making it possible for Steven to get back into the Ekso without too much delay.

“Other than my standing fame, this is the first time I’ve stood up in years,” says Steven, who now is also able to walk using light leg braces. “This is pretty eye-opening. It just felt weird after sitting in a chair for all those years and then all of a sudden there’s this technology and boom, I’m standing and walking and seeing people at face level. It blows my mind. My leg spasms have calmed down too and I have better circulation. The Ekso legs combined with other technology and lots of stretching is helping me reach far past my original goals.”

The scholarship also will help fund sessions for other patients who have been discharged but would benefit from continued Ekso sessions.

“This technology is just the beginning of opening new doors and opportunities for improved function and quality of life for these people,” says Sue Golden, director of neurorehabilitation therapies. “The sense of hope this device has inspired in our spinal cord-injured patients is amazing. I feel so profoundly fortunate to be a part of this exciting time and I’m tremendously grateful to the Women’s Circle for this wonderful gift.”

Click here to make an online gift supporting exciting new technologies at Good Shepherd!