We have all seen the marvels of the exoskeleton, the robotic device that has been making news by helping those with spinal cord injuries walk again. But for Ron Cote, Eric McHuron and thousands of others with spinal cord injuries, the cost and size makes owning an exoskeleton an impossibility. Now, a smaller commercial version is gaining popularity, and with a price tag of just under $8,000, it makes walking again an attainable goal for many.
Eric McHuron had a massive stroke that affected his mobility on the right side of his body. He was a geologist and an avid hiker before the stroke changed his life.
“When he first had his stroke, he couldn’t move or talk,” said his wife, Carol.
Ron Cote suffered from a back injury that left him with partial paralysis, unable to pursue his passion as a marathon runner. His diagnosis was grim. “That I wouldn’t regain much mobility at all,” said Cote.
Thanks to the help of the Kickstart Orthosis, described as “a scaled-down version of the robotic exoskeleton,” both men are regaining mobility.
Kickstart does not use a motor that the more expensive models rely on. Instead, the technology uses a spring-loaded pulley system. Kickstart is most beneficial for those who have some movement, as the user must propel the legs in a walking motion to use the device.
“And it doesn’t do everything for you. If you don’t do it yourself, if you don’t initiate hip flexor and then you don’t try to flex your knee and plant your heel, then the device can’t do everything for you,” said Nancy Byl, Ph.D., the former director of physical therapy at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
The device has worked out wonderfully for McHuron, who now walks the steep hills in his San Francisco neighborhood with his wife.
Cote, on the other hand, is having more difficulty with his rehabilitation, largely due to his lack of muscle control prior to using the device. He was previously limited to only using his legs while swimming.
“We’ve been working on it slowly as my body has become used to it, and now we’re seeing very strong gains, I would say,” said Cote.
Kickstart is designed for at home use, but requires a prescription from a doctor and specialized fitting before use. The device sells for $7,800, and insurance coverage varies from company to company. Cadence Biomedical, the company that developed the Kickstart, is working on a clinical trial to determine the benefits of the low-cost exoskeleton for those with muscular dystrophy (MD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and they hope to release their findings soon.