Video: See a demonstration of ReWalk.
LINCOLN — Agnes Fejerdy's spine was severed in a car wreck seven years ago, yet here she was, getting up out of a chair.
A crutch on each arm helped steady her once she got to her feet, but she hadn't used the crutches to lift her small frame. Instead, she had pushed a button at her wrist, prepared herself as three beeps sounded, and in a whoosh, the robotic exoskeleton she was wearing smoothly raised her into an upright position.
With the push of another button, she was walking across the floor at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, leaning forward to keep herself and the device moving.
Fejerdy and other representatives from Agro Medical Technologies were at the Lincoln hospital to demonstrate Argo's ReWalk device, which is being introduced at a few rehabilitation centers across the United States. It is not yet in use in Nebraska or Iowa.
Madonna officials are considering adding the $100,000 institutional model to their equipment arsenal. A less-expensive ($30,000 to $50,000) home model awaits FDA approval, spokesman Pete Escallier said.
The device works with paraplegic patients who are able to use their hands and shoulders, who have a healthy cardiovascular system and bone density and are able to tolerate being in a standing position.
"We're really focused on serving the spinal cord injury population," said Phil Astrachan, a physical therapist who works for the company. "We're helping patients in wheelchairs who couldn't be ambulatory at all."
The 40-pound device straps onto a user's legs and is powered by a 4-pound backpack battery. It uses motors and motion sensors to help people walk as their center of gravity shifts. Artie, the paralyzed character on the TV show "Glee," was shown using a ReWalk in a December episode.
Fejerdy, 36, was a front-seat passenger in a friend's car in her native Hungary when the car was struck on the passenger side. Her spinal cord was severed at T-11, at the mid-back, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The former gymnast was hospitalized for three weeks and in a rehab center for five months.
She found out about a clinical trial of the ReWalk device while living in Philadelphia, where she and her husband had moved three years ago. Watching a video of a paraplegic man walking and even climbing stairs while using the device made her cry, she said.
"I think everybody's dream is to walk again," Fejerdy said.
After being accepted for the trial, it took her 14 hourlong sessions to learn how to use the machine. Now that she participates in demonstrations for the company, she walks with it two to three times a week.
"After seven years," Fejerdy said, "it's the best walk I ever had."
Using it and moving her body more, she said, has speeded up her digestive system and decreased her back pain. The battery in an implanted neurostimulator that targets pain needs to be replaced, she said, but she thinks her continued use of the device will keep the pain at bay and erase the need for surgery to replace the battery.
Matt Ulmer, a physical therapist at Madonna, said he wondered how functional the device would be in a home setting, but said he was impressed with the device's potential to improve patients' bone strength, endurance, cardiovascular health and overall wellness.
"It makes you feel good to see that that's a potential out there," he said.
Contact the writer:
Video: See a demonstration of ReWalk