Latest News

Robotic technology helps patients walk again

November 05, 2012 by Beth Anne Atkins

GREENVILLE – Robotic equipment at the Rehabilitation Center at Vidant Medical Center is giving pediatric and adult patients with neurological conditions the opportunity to gain strength and endurance and possible even a chance to walk again.

Called the Lokomat, this leading-edge technology gives hope to patients who have experienced a serious injury such as a spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or other neurological illnesses. As a result, patients in eastern North Carolina no longer need to travel to centers in Atlanta or Charlotte to take advantage of this therapy.

“With this device, we can improve patients’ ability to walk if they’re overcoming a spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Raymund V. Millan, director of the spinal cord injury rehabilitation program at the rehabilitation center and clinical associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. “It can be used while in the rehab center and after they’re discharged.” 

Physician referral is required for Lokomat therapy, which is covered by most insurance plans. 

The Lokomat uses a parachute-style harness, a body-weight support system, leg braces and a treadmill, all functioning together through robotic technology. Specially trained physical therapists fit the patient into the harness and leg braces then program the equipment to lift the patient just above the treadmill. Gradually, the patient is lowered onto the treadmill and, with the help of the Lokomat, begins to walk. 

The harness gives the patient confidence and reduces the fear of falling. The robotic technology allows the equipment to be programmed specifically to each individual’s needs. As a result, it can be adjusted at the knees and the hips to enable the patient to walk better with each step. 

In most cases, patients find that their steps are more coordinated and their posture is more upright with Lokomat training. Success inspires them to want to do more and gives them hope that they will be able to walk again, at least with the help of a walker, cane or other supportive device. 

Many individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury are given little hope that they will ever walk again. That was the case with Phillip Bryant of Greenville, whose spinal cord was injured in an automobile accident in January 2011 at age 28. Determined to beat the odds, Bryant had parallel bars installed in his home and was slowly training himself to walk. He was excited to be among the first patients to use the Lokomat at the Rehabilitation Center in Greenville. 

In 16 one-hour sessions, he began to feel his legs again and support himself while standing. His ability to walk has improved. Now he trains several times a week, continuing to get stronger. 

“Graphs on a screen in front of him show Phillip how well he is performing step by step,” said Brian Walsh, a physical therapist who works with him. This system gives immediate feedback to the patient and the therapist. The data are preserved so the physical therapy team and Bryant’s physician can review his progress over time. 

“With such consistent effort, Phillip is building new pathways from his brain to his legs and hips,” Walsh said. 

Bryant can sense the progress. 

“The Lokomat is retraining my body to take its first steps,” he said. “It is awakening my legs by teaching my spinal cord new signals.” He is motivated by his desire to start a non-profit restaurant in Greenville to benefit the less fortunate and to complete his undergraduate degree. His greatest inspiration, however, is his two-year-old child, Avery. 

“Each session brings me one step closer to dancing with my daughter,” he said. 

Share: