Robot exoskeleton gets patients back on their feet

Indego exoskelton, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital
Brittany Yeomans uses the Indego exoskeleton during therapy at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids. (Dec. 11, 2017)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It might sound futuristic, but right now, a robotic suit is helping Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital patients who are paralyzed.

Brittany Yeomans was only 21 years old in May 2013 when her life changed forever in a motorcycle crash.

“I was a passenger on a Harley and a car pulled out in front of me and the guy that was riding. His name was Chris,” Yeomans said.

Chris didn’t survive the crash. The spinal cord injury Yeomans sustained left her paralyzed.

“When the doctor told me I was paralyzed and that I wasn’t going to walk again, I was just kind of like, ‘OK, I’ll show you,'” Yeomans said.

Now, the Indego exoskeleton is allowing Yeomans to be back on her feet.

“It’s basically a robotic suit that helps people move their limbs whether they have muscle function in the legs or not,” physical therapist Jessica Larson, who’s part of the spinal cord injury program at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, explained Indego.

“To be able to be up and to have the motion of walking is amazing,” Yeomans said.

While Yeomans keeps her focus on walking on her own again someday, her doctors and physical therapists are focusing on other benefits.

“We utilize it for upright positioning, which has tremendous benefits for bone density, circulation, GI functioning; it reduces spasticity of the muscles, reduces muscle contractures,” Larson said.

It also helps with circulation and cardiovascular health.

Yeomans can’t take the exoskeleton home. The $180,000 device belongs to Mary Free Bed, the first hospital in the state to have an Indego.

Weighing in at 26 pounds, the Indego exoskeleton is battery-powered and can track a patient’s progress.

“It’s a way the person can challenge their body in a way that is not possible with other equipment,” Larson said.

Four physical therapists with Mary Free Bed’s Spinal Cord Injury Program completed 32 hours each of training to make sure they’re helping patients use the device correctly.

“I’ve been doing this for about two months in this suit and … as time has passed, I feel like I could walk out of it. It feels so natural,” Yeomans said.