Pioneering invention showcased in village

EKSO Walking Aid Demonstration with Physio Function, Long Buckby.
EKSO Walking Aid Demonstration with Physio Function, Long Buckby.

A GROUNDBREAKING new device which can get people standing and walking after years in a wheelchair is being trialed by a medical firm in Long Buckby.

The pioneering equipment comes from an American company Ekso. It uses a computer and batteries worn on the back which help to control articulated leg braces.

PhysioFunction, based in the village, is considering using it for its clients.

Andy Hayes, managing director for Ekso Europe, said: “At the moment it is only a physiotherapy tool which has to be used under clinical supervision.

“You need to have someone trained to judge the patient shifting their body weight so they can activate the leg and get it to move at the right time.

“But we’re looking at a system of smart crutches which would mean when the crutch is used it triggers the relevant leg to move.

“People don’t always realise that spinal injuries can cause a lot of complications. For instance, sitting in a wheelchair all day can inhibit the way your bowel functions.

“One use of this device will be to see what benefits just standing up and walking can bring.

“We don’t see this as replacing a wheelchair – it’s still much faster to use a chair out and about.

“Five to 10 years down the line we might have a smaller, lighter and cheaper device which can be used independently, but that’s a way off.”

Not all people with spinal cord injuries would be suitable to use the device, and that’s where companies like PhysioFunction come in.

Jon Graham, clinical director of PhysioFunction, said: “To use the device you have to have good upperbody strength, it obviously helps if you’re fairly fit, and you have to have good range in your legs.

“The idea would be for us to assess people to see if they were suitable and then perhaps get Ekso to come in and run the physiotherapy.”

Dave Follett, who demonstrated the kit, broke his neck after being hit by a car, leaving him with limited use of his arms and no use of anything below his shoulders.

Lisa Webb, from Braunston, is a PhysioFunction client and was there to see the demonstration. She said: “It’s brilliant – I would love to have a go.

“For me it’s just the thought of being able to stand and walk.”