Wednesday, October 13, 2010

U.S. disabled teen cheerleader tries out robo-legs

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

Wheelchair-bound Lainy Loyola, 19, could see her dream of being a cheerleader again come true thanks to the success of a radical new robotic suit.

The American teenager was paralysed from the chest down after a high speed crash two years ago, leaving her devastated by the accident which she has called a ‘death sentence’.

Miraculously she has now walked again after taking part in a trial for robotic legs, being the youngest of only a handful of paraplegics worldwide given the chance to try out the groundbreaking technology.

Lainy now hopes that advances with the miracle suit could mean she could fufill her dream of returning to her beloved cheerleading squad. She said: 'I just hope that one day the technology will have become so advanced that the legs will be more slimline - and I can get back to cheerleading properly.'

The robotic legs – by ReWalk - are strapped to Lainy’s own legs, and allow her stand and walk within seconds by using a control pad that monitors her centre of gravity to determine the speed and direction she wants to walk in.

'The ReWalk trials have totally transformed my life and given me hope when I was at my lowest,' said Lainy. 'I never thought I'd stand again, let alone be able to walk and run around. It took me a few sessions to get used to it though - I had got so used to doing everything with my arms it was strange to use my legs again!'

Lainy had to use crutches to get her balance right as she trialed the legs at the Moss Rehab Clinic in Philadelphia, and hopes that ReWalk will get international approval so she can save up the thousands of dollars she will need to buy her own set of robotic legs.

'I was an accomplished gymnast and cheerleader - at first I couldn't accept that this had happened to me,' said Lainy - who is from San Antonio, Texas.

'The crash completley severed my spinal cord - doctors told me I'd never walk again. For me, it may as well have been a death sentence. Waking up in the hospital and not being able to move my legs was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever been through.'

Dr Albert Esqenazi, leading the trials, said: 'We are thrilled to be trialing such an exciting piece of technology. Rewalk works through motion sensors, which monitor the wearer's upper body movements and shifts in gravity.

'These movements are processed by an onboard computer system that moves the motorised leg segments in the right direction at the appropriate speed.

'We are hoping that ReWalk will be approved and commercially available by early 2011. It has the potential to change the lives of thousands of paraplegics.'