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New device helps people with spinal cord injury walk upright

A Pennsylvania spinal cord injury patient visited the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to demonstrate the ReWalk, a device that offers hope for paralyzed people.
BY SONYA COLBERG scolberg@opubco.com Published: November 4, 2011

Agnes Fejerdy no longer walks only in her dreams.

Fejerdy, a pretty blonde who laughs easily and looks you straight in the eye, was paralyzed below the waist when her spine was severed in a car wreck in her native Hungary seven years ago. All indications were that the former gymnast would live out her life looking up at the world from her wheelchair.

Yet her hope was strong. So strong that for a time after the accident, she saw herself in her dreams walking, free of her wheelchair.

“But after some years — I don't know why — I dreamed I was in my chair,” she said.

Now, a robotic exoskeleton has allowed her to take her first independent steps in years. In March, Fejerdy, 36, began participating in a clinical trial of the device — called the ReWalk — in Philadelphia, where she and her husband moved three years ago.

The device allows her to move independently in reality and in her dreams.

“Now, I'm just like regular people,” Fejerdy said with a laugh.

Fejerdy visited the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center on Thursday to demonstrate the device designed to help people with spinal cord injuries gain mobility. OU doctors and therapists hope to raise about $160,000 for the device produced by Israel-based Argo Medical Technologies so that other patients can taste the freedom that Fejerdy enjoys each time she uses it in the clinic. Only about 16 are available to patients in clinics worldwide.

Fejerdy's hands pushed her feet into the running shoes attached to ribbons of steel that run up to the waist, like a stripped down version of the exoskeleton used in the movie “Iron Man.” The device includes a series of straps, sensors and a three-hour battery pack.

She pressed a mode selector on a strap clamped around her right wrist. The ReWalk quickly pushed Fejerdy to her feet, her crutches aiding her balance.

She smiled.

The device waited for the next command, and, with a slight pause, Fejerdy took off at a quick clip. The device is designed to move fast enough to get the patient across the street before the traffic light changes. It weighs about 40 pounds. The wearer navigates uneven surfaces, ramps, stairs and doorways by leaning and pushing the mode selection. “It completely changed my life,” Fejerdy said. “It's more freedom, and people look me in the eyes.”

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