With spinal cord injury, every step forward in technology strengthens our hope.
That’s why we spend a lot of time here looking at new technologies that improve mobility for people with disabilities, whether it’s software and devices that allow wheelchairs to move by lung power, wheelchairs that are designed to tackle rocky terrain, prosthetics that replace a part of the body bionically, or even full exoskeletons that allow quadriplegics to walk again. No matter how often we cover these sorts of stories, it’s always exciting to introduce new technology that has the potential to bring mobility to a person with a disability that impairs movement.
The latest of these devices is called the Vector Gait and Safety System. Though not as flexible in use as an exoskeleton or off-roading wheelchair, this system also isn’t quite designed for the same purpose. Rather than simply providing mobility, the Vector system is designed to assist in rehabilitation, allowing patients who have suffered spinal cord injury to regain the mobility they have lost by increasing their ability to use muscles. It’s a dynamic body weight support system that works over a normal surface for the first time.
The system works in much the same way as the harnesses you’ve seen used by acrobats in the circus and even some rock stars who “fly” over the audience. You also see it a lot in “wire -fu” films. Wire-fu is a combination of wires and kung fu—used to create the illusion that an actor can do flips in the air while soaring over a house during an action sequence. Peter Gorman MD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, explains how the device works:
“The robotic trolley system moves on a ceiling-mounted, overhead track and connects to a harness holding the patient. The body weight support gives the patients the security to know that they will not fall, and the degree of support can be adjusted as the patients regain strength and mobility.”
In 2010, Louie Quiambo suffered a spinal stroke which left his legs partially paralyzed. He is exactly the sort of patient for whom this system is designed, and it has been a boon to his rehabilitation process. Louie says of the system, “You don’t have to be afraid. You can let go, and you’re not going to get hurt, so you’re not afraid to use your muscles. You can take a chance.”
Using the system, therapists can customize the device to each patient’s individualized needs, including support for the patient’s exact body weight. In addition, it provides real-time feedback regarding movements and distance for the patient and therapist, which is a great aid in tailoring the course of treatment for each individual.
Watch Louie Quiambo use the Vector Gait and Safety System. What’s your take on this new step in spinal cord injury rehabilitation?