Bionic Legs Helping Veterans Walk Again

May 19, 2016 03:41 PM

Life became much more difficult for Doug Eckhoff on Aug. 10, 2015. It was the Monday just after the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota when another motorcycle rider hit him.

"I didn't see them," Eckhoff said. "We hit head on almost and I went flying through the air."

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Eckhoff broke his T12 vertebrae and his wrist. He can't feel below the middle of his calf.

Eckhoff began therapy for his injuries soon after the accident, but the first time he used the Ekso GT Exoskeleton was last November.

"It teaches me the proper gait that I'm supposed to have, my hip movement and all that," he said of the device. "So it's helped me a lot to get back to walking."

Eckhoff is not the new version of Iron Man.

"The first time you get into it, you're not sure what it's going to do," he said.

The exoskeleton was designed by Ekso Bionics Holdings, a Richmond, California-based company. It was designed to help stroke and spinal cord injury victims learn to walk again. The suit consists of a backpack and two leg sections that go down the outside of each leg and strap at the thigh, below the knees and at the foot. A battery pack powers the legs.

Physical Therapist Crystal Stien works with Eckhoff and others at the Minneapolis VA Hospital. She says it's the ability for patients to stand up that brings great joy.

"I think the biggest impact is looking at their significant other at eye level for the first time, and that is just amazing to give them that," she said.

Eckhoff says his faith has kept him together and the exoskeleton has given him a fighting chance at a better life.

"Now I'm walking with a cane, a single cane," he said. "It's brought my life back."

The Minnesota Department of Veteran's Affairs has two exoskeleton suits.

The Soldier Strong and the Fraternal Order of Eagles organizations raised $180,000 to purchase the devices.    

You can find out more information about Soldier Strong program here.


Todd Wilson

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