From Wheelchair-Bound, to Golfing Again

My story began in December 2015, when I had a stroke in my spinal cord, caused by a ruptured AVM. I had a resectioning of my spinal cord preformed in February 2016. I have a T-12  incomplete spinal cord injury. Post-injury, I used a wheelchair, then went to a wheeled walker, then to a straight cane and AFO braces.  Doctors were thrilled with this progress, since my original prognosis was a wheelchair. But, I was really just dragging my legs with me where I went. I would plant with the cane and drag my leg, using my hips and quads. This was not the best solution in my mind.

I was introduced to Ekso in the fall of 2017 (two years post-injury), when I went to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab website to look for rehabilitation help. I saw the WISE study criteria and signed up immediately. Luckily, I started the trial in quarter one of 2018. I would end up using Ekso three days per week for twelve weeks.

Session #1 — I found my balance, with the help of the pre-gait functions, and my posture recovered.

Session #3 — I became very comfortable and confident in the device. I learned, by then, what we were doing together: Ekso was not walking for me. I stopped fighting it and really started to learn from it. It was here that I realized I need to take the information learned and carry it over into real life. This is also when I realized the importance of Ekso and the steps. I was taking 500+ steps in my first few sessions of 45 minutes each. That was more steps than I was taking in days on my own. Not only was I thrilled by the step quantity, but more by the quality. The step pattern in Ekso is natural and would not allow we to drag my toes.  I can only take quality steps in the device.

Session #5 — We realized I had not used my calves in 2 years. I started pushing with my calves again to clear the toes that were curled under from foot drop. When I am walking, I still hear my PT telling me to push.

Session #12 — I  stopped using my AFO because I was engaging my calves with every step. At this time, I was taking 900+ steps in Ekso, including backward and forward walking.

Session #20 — I was walking in the community unassisted — no more cane!

Session #36 — I was golfing again! This brought my social life back, which I had been desperately missing over the past two years. Ekso brought me back to life!

“I want to stress how much I believe in Ekso: I would drive 2 hours round trip for 12 weeks to get into the device to keep learning to walk.”

Today, I still can’t feel my legs from the waist down, but  I have carried on with all the lessons from my Ekso training and I have been walking unassisted for over two years! I have returned to use Ekso in the outpatient setting, for what I call “tune-ups.” I tend to get busy when life is moving quickly and I return to my old habits—short steps, not weight-shifting, and dragging my toes. Every time I use Ekso, I learn something new and take it with me. I do have to think of every step I am going to take, but now it is so much easier.

Megan is an Ekso Bionics Patient Ambassador. She joined Team Ekso in 2019, when in recovery for her stroke.

To learn more about EksoNR, request a demo today.

After a Serious Fall, College Student is Back on Her Feet: Sasha’s Story

On a day that started like any other, 20-year-old Sasha Pavlenko went to an early morning class to give a presentation. She had just transferred to the University of Dayton two months prior and was excited to spend time after class with her childhood friend, Cortni, who was in town visiting her.

It was St. Patrickʼs Day, and students started their celebrations early. That afternoon, Sasha and Cortni went to a house party and were talking with a group of friends on a second-floor balcony. Suddenly, a party guest ran into Sasha, causing her to fall 25 feet to the ground below. She was knocked unconscious.

Cortni sprang into action to call Sashaʼs parents and to be by her friendʼs side. Sasha recalls waking up below the balcony. “I tried to stand up, but paramedics told me to be still.”

An hour later at the hospital, the pain struck and after many tests, it was determined that Sasha suffered a burst fracture in her spine and was diagnosed with an L1 incomplete spinal cord injury. She needed an 11-hour surgery the next morning.

“The doctors explained to me that my spinal cord didnʼt break in half — it was still intact but a very exaggerated S-shape. I also had a very large bruise and swelling where my spinal cord ends and meets the peripheral nerves,” recalls Sasha. “Bone fragments were all over the tissue in my back since it was a burst fracture — thatʼs why it took so long, they had to get all of the bone fragments out and then they straightened my spine and put two rods in. They did the best that they could.”

Sasha spent the first few days after surgery in the intensive care unit in a blur of pain and medication. It was after moving to the trauma unit that she had her first glimmer of hope. While still on bed rest, Sasha lifted her left foot, the first movement she made since her fall. Her surgeon was shocked — he wasn’t expecting that so soon.

Two weeks after surgery, Sasha was transferred into the hospitalʼs inpatient rehabilitation unit. The first thing her care team did was get her out of bed to stand – but she couldn’t do it on her own without the help of people holding her. Sasha then started using Ekso almost daily. “Thatʼs when I began gaining more mobility and was able to stand longer,” Sasha explains. “Especially when my accident first happened — I loved getting up to walk.”

After a month, it was time to head home and start outpatient rehab to work towards her goals of getting stronger and walking independently again. During this time she used a walker in her house, a wheelchair in the community, and she continued using Ekso in physical therapy. Sasha noticed how the SmartAssist feature helped to train her weaker leg. “My PT would remove power from my left leg, my stronger side, so it wasnʼt helping me and then I would just work on my right leg.”

“My favorite feature on Ekso is where it shows you how much work you’re actually doing compared to the machine… “We’re always looking at how we can make their lives easier.” …I wasn’t just able to feel that I was getting better, I had actual proof.”

Throughout the four months that she used Ekso she was able to chart her progress, not only by the improvements she felt but in numbers, too.

“My favorite feature on Ekso is where it shows you how much work youʼre actually doing compared to the machine. At the beginning, it was helping me 95% and by the end it was 0% or close to 0%,” Sasha explains. “Iʼm a very numbers oriented person — I love having numbers to show my progress whenever I get reevaluated; thatʼs how I like to judge it. Having that on Ekso, I wasnʼt just able to feel that I was getting better, I had actual proof.”

Today, just over a year after her injury, Sasha can walk. She still wears a brace on her foot but her balance has improved. She walks unassisted at home and uses a walking stick to help her get around outside.

Her message to others who suffer from a spinal cord injury: “Regardless of how you recover, the injury does get easier. I donʼt want people to get too sad in the beginning. The last thing Iʼd want is for someone to fall into depression. Itʼs hard but look at all the good you have and try to appreciate that.”

“There is so much technology and if you work at it, things do happen. Try to achieve your goals. Maybe you wonʼt walk again on your own — each injury is different, but you may make gains in other areas. Keep trying and donʼt lose hope.”

Sasha has returned to college part-time, with plans to increase her course load this fall. Her rehab journey continues with five days of treatment per week, helping her toward her goals of improving her balance and speed and getting rid of the walking stick completely.

To learn more about EksoNR, request a demo today.

EksoNR for ABI: A Game-Changer for Neurorehab

FDA Approval and Ekso Bionics

U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave us clearance to market our robotic exoskeleton, EksoNR, for use with patients with acquired brain injury (ABI).

As EksoNR is the first exoskeleton device to receive FDA clearance for rehabilitation use with ABI, this significantly expands the device’s indication to a broader group of patients.

EksoNR for NeuroRehab

EksoNR is the next generation device of the most clinically-used robotic exoskeleton, EksoGT, and was previously cleared by the FDA for stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation in 2016. The device was the first of its kind to receive a stroke indication and is now also the first to receive an ABI indication.

What is ABI?

ABI, acquired brain injury, is the broadest category of brain injury and is comprised of both traumatic (TBI) and non-traumatic (n-TBI) causes. TBI includes severe head injuries and concussions, while n-TBI includes a broader subset of conditions, such as stroke, aneurysms, brain tumors, anoxia, degenerative and metabolic conditions, infections, and surgical injuries, among others. The combined annual incidence of TBI and stroke alone represent an estimated patient population of 3.7 million in the U.S. and 84 million globally.

What does this new indication mean?

ABI clearance is a huge step towards our goal of elevating patient care and helping people regain mobility.

“With the expanded indications to include the broad category of acquired brain injuries, EksoNR has the potential to mobilize significantly more patients and improve patient recovery. Based on their experience with EksoNR, customers at leading rehabilitation centers have acknowledged the benefits our technology can offer during recovery from brain injuries.”

— Jack Peurach, CEO & President of Ekso Bionics

As Ekso Bionics CEO & President stated, “At Ekso Bionics, we are committed to maximizing patient access to our technology. With the expanded indications to include the broad category of acquired brain injuries, EksoNR has the potential to mobilize significantly more patients and improve patient recovery. Based on their experience with EksoNR, customers at leading rehabilitation centers have acknowledged the benefits our technology can offer during recovery from brain injuries. We are excited to see the device used more widely in neurorehabilitation.”

In addition to EksoNR’s FDA clearance for stroke, spinal cord injury, and acquired brain injury rehabilitation, the device is also CE-marked and available in Europe. Utilized by over 270 rehabilitation centers around the world, Ekso device has helped patients take more than 120 million steps, while supporting patients’ hopes of early mobility and independence.

To learn more about EksoNR, request a demo today.

From Clinical PT, to Global Director of Clinical Experience

I’ve been often asked what it was like to transition from being a clinical PT to working for Ekso. Here is an article I wrote in 2013 to share my experience:

Last summer, I was sitting in my hospital’s charting room with beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay and glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge. Life of a PT spends much time documenting in a familiar environment. One of my unit’s case managers came up to me and stated “I intercepted this fairly vague phone call.  The caller was looking to speak with the PT supervisor.” She continued on, saying “I tried to receive the call and answer appropriately, but she was very insistent in speaking with you. Would you mind calling her back, if it’s not too inconvenient? Unfortunately, all I have is a name and number.” Without hesitation, I took the limited information and after a brief call, I was introduced to Ekso Bionics.

After 10 years of clinical work, I found myself frustrated with watching a clock and counting minutes to assure I was fulfilling Medicare’s expectations of time spent with patients and units of productive service expected by my clinic. Although I wasn’t actively seeking a change in employment, I found myself excited with the opportunity Ekso Bionics offered. A series of phone calls and conveniently local headquarters offered the opportunity for me to interview and visit with the company on two separate occasions. On the second visit, I asked Ekso’s Clinical Director if an able-bodied person can walk in Ekso and about 10 minutes later I was wearing and walking in Ekso. I was sold and really wanted the position.

With much excitement, I was offered the position of Clinical Training Specialist. With appropriate diligence to wrap up my former position and assist with appropriate transitions, it took a couple months to close one chapter of my PT career to open the next. The clinic was everything I knew and one where I could anticipate what curveballs would head my way. The challenges of patient or family members, therapy or nursing team dynamics, staffing ratios and productivity were quickly swept away. I was moving into a world extremely foreign to the clinical-based physical therapist. A biotech start-up company is entirely different. I was now trying to understand fairly new and evolving technology. I think of myself as a math and science person, but I’m not very tech-savvy. Although I feel confident in my knowledge of the body, biomechanics and neuromuscular function, I stepped into a world of technology and discovered how a robot can interface with the highly sophisticated system that is the human body. The learning curve was eased with training from my colleagues, who spent appropriate time to explain and offer opportunities for learning.

This new and dynamic experience is ever-changing and exciting. I see the Clinical Training Specialist with a three-dimension role: we are first and foremost physical therapists working with patients and analyzing gait, but we also act as clinical educators/instructors and tap into a sales and marketing component.

Throughout each week we have test pilots come to headquarters. These appointments help on multiple levels. It offers the clinical staff opportunity to gain exposure to learning styles and teaching opportunities while still maintaining a clinical opportunity of patient and family interaction. The test pilots have the opportunity to use the product, ambulate and gain benefits of walking in Ekso. The product development team gains opportunities to test and trial new hardware, soft goods and software changes. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.

The Ekso Clinical Training Specialist is also responsible to assist with sales demonstrations. It is a rare opportunity for PTs to travel for work. Outside a home healthcare scenario, it is the clinical model in the US healthcare system for patients to travel to the clinic due to equipment and logistical constraints. I have been offered the opportunity to travel across the country to demonstrate and expose people and clinicians to Ekso. It is a priceless experience to watch people witness our ambassadors and test pilots walking in Ekso.

The ultimate goal of many of these demonstrations is to place Ekso in the rehabilitation clinics. When these sales are complete, the clinical PTs have the opportunity to train up to four of the clinical site’s PTs on how to safely use Ekso.  As a clinical instructor, it is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to get back into teaching.

This career change was certainly unexpected and an opportunity that is unmatched. Every day I work side-by-side with some of the world’s most innovative engineers, top-notch executives, brilliant marketing and customer relations representatives and an elite group of clinicians. I find myself very fortunate to have this opportunity and excited for the many lives we will touch in the future.

Since writing this in 2013, a lot has happened — we have launched numerous new products, trained countless rehabilitation centers, gained new FDA-clearances, and I am now the Global Director of Clinical Experience.

Working with Ekso has been an experience like no other.

If you’re interested in joining Team Ekso, visit our Careers page to see what openings are available.