James’ Story: After Stroke, Learning to Walk Again with Ekso Bionics

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Nothing is more shocking than to go to bed thinking all is well, only to wake up the next morning to discover your loved one has suffered a stroke. That is exactly what happened to James and Lucretia Shields of Greenville.

“My husband was able to do everything,” says Lucretia. “He was able to carry on a conversation with me, and the next morning he woke up and he can’t talk to me. He can’t move, he can’t do anything for himself.”

James, 51, was a healthy, active man who drove a truck for a living. When he arrived at Wayne HealthCare that morning, his speech was slurred and he was experiencing weakness on the right side of his body. He was immediately transferred to Miami Valley Hospital.

“It took away his voice. It took away his ability to walk, to stand, to pretty much do everything,” Lucretia says.

James’ treatment began with a procedure to address the cause of the stroke: a clot. He underwent an angioplasty and stenting of the right internal carotid artery.

Over the next three weeks, James was retrained in walking with the help of the robotic device called the Ekso Bionics®.

A Couple Hundred Steps

Miami Valley Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation program was the first in the Dayton area to offer the Ekso technology. The robotic exoskeleton is a wearable, battery-operated bionic exoskeleton that uses external motors to power the hip and knee joints and assists patients in performing a full, weight-bearing, reciprocal gait pattern. Such gait training can be key in the recovery of neuro-rehabilitation patients.

The progress was so profound for the Shields family they made the hour drive for outpatient therapy after James’ release from the hospital.

“One of the best things about the Ekso suit is that it only gives as much help as the patient needs,” says Erin Sinkfield, lead therapist, inpatient rehab physical therapy. “Even if we do other gait training with our patients, they might not get as many steps in, they might not get the quality of gait, or they might be walking only 10 feet early on. With an Ekso, we typically get anywhere from 50 to a couple hundred steps. We’ve had one patient taking over 1,000 steps in one session.”

James’ attending physician, Antony Jacob, MD, says the suit supports patients in quickly returning to an active lifestyle.

“For stroke patients especially, their recovery is different, depending on how fast you can mobilize them,” Dr. Jacob says. “Having the exoskeleton available in the rehabilitation process in the hospital means recovery in functional mobility comes at a faster pace compared to someone who goes through the traditional exercise program.” 

Lucretia is encouraged by James’ progress. 

“He still has a long way to go, but since he has been using the suit, he has graduated from the wheelchair,” she says.

James now uses a cane and can get out of bed and shower by himself.

“We really started to feel like there is hope that you can get back what you have lost,” Lucretia says.

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