Julio Caro forgot how it felt to stand upright. The 31-year-old suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down nine years ago. Now, thanks to robotic exoskeletons hitting the market, Caro is able to reap the benefits of standing upright and walking.
"I love it," said Caro of ReWalk Personal 6.0 System, a wearable, powered exoskeleton that provides hip and knee motion to enable individuals with lower limb disabilities, such as paraplegia, to stand and walk. "It's getting me up vertical, keeping my weight down—you know—good exercise, so you know, pretty good."
It wasn't until six years after his accident that Caro took his first vertical steps.
"It's kind of something to get used to. You know, you can see your feet on the floor, but you can't really feel it, so it's kind of odd," said Caro.
I love it. It's getting me up vertical, keeping my weight down.
Individuals are encouraged to use it a few hours a week with someone by their side. The company says there are a lot of benefits to walking.
"We've seen improvements in patient spasticity, improvements in pain, decrease in pain medicine, improvements in bowel and bladder function," said Matt Fuller, a physical therapist who works for ReWalk. "[There are] also psychological benefits of standing and walking. Some people enjoy just using it to stand and cook with their family."
There are a slew of exoskeletons on the markets—some for at-home use, others for clinical facilities only. SuitX has alone for $40,000, and it's powered by pushing buttons. The ReWalk costs close to $120,000 and activates motors at the hip and knee joints when a user tilts their upper body. ReWalk was the first rehabilitation exoskeleton for at-home use to receive FDA approval in 2014. The company says it has sold about 400 units worldwide.
Some people enjoy just using it to stand and cook with their family.
ReWalk defends the price tag by saying that the medical benefits of walking reduce the medical costs often experienced by people with spinal cord injury, like hospitalization and medical usage. Caro says he was able to work with ReWalk's insurance team to get his insurance to cover the entire cost. The entire ordeal took two years, but Caro says it was well worth it.
"I'm always sitting down, you know, so it's [great] getting upright and seeing everyone eye to eye. I'm 6'2", and nobody believes me until I get up," he says, laughing.
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