EDINBURG, RGV – Doctors Hospital at Renaissance has unveiled its latest acquisition – the EksoGT, a robotic exoskeleton to help physical therapy patients learn to walk again.

At a press conference hosted by Dr. Saroja Viswamitra, medical director of the Rehabilitation Hospital at Renaissance, staff and patients gave testimonials and a demonstration of the machine, the only one of its kind available south of San Antonio and Houston.

“Today is a dream come true for DHR Health, for many of the patients of the Rio Grande Valley that will now have life-saving, life-changing technology right here at home,” said Marissa Castañeda, chief operations officer for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

The EksoGT is FDA-approved to provide robotic assisted rehabilitation to patients who have suffered a stroke or a spinal cord injury. By reinforcing body alignment, processing patient biofeedback, implementing variable assistance levels, stimulating the brain through repetition, and encouraging users with task-specific training, the EksoGT promises greater patient outcomes and faster recoveries.

“It is very disheartening sometimes to say or having said to people … that we couldn’t do any more than what we did with the conventional physical therapy,” said Viswamitra. “Now we are very happy to say that we have a better, cutting-edge technology.”

Originally designed for military personnel, the machine can accommodate patients from 5 feet 2 inches to 6 feet 4 inches and up to 220 pounds. Once a patient is in the EksoGT, their gait pattern is monitored and corrected. The exoskeleton will not allow the patient to take a step unless they have properly shifted their weight. A chirping sound alerts the patient when they are ready to advance. This discourages compensatory measures that lead to limps and pathological gaits (abnormal pacing of the limbs). As a patient improves, their physical therapist can program different trajectories for them to gain more motor control and even add resistance for them to push through the gait cycle.

“It’s not a device that the patient puts on and the robot does everything; it challenges him across the continuum of his rehabilitation,” said Dr. Michael E. Auer, director of rehabilitation therapy services at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Donald “Donnie” Barajas and Manuel “Manny” Garcia are two patients that achieved great success with the EksoGT. Barajas, a Corpus Christi native, was in a car accident and diagnosed with paraplegia due to an incomplete spinal cord injury. He could not move his legs, but he had the capacity to walk again, making him a perfect candidate for robotic assisted rehabilitation. Garcia, a teacher and varsity soccer coach at James “Nikki” Rowe High School, suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left him at a low mobility level. After traditional physical therapy, Garcia had developed a limp as a result of his compensatory strategies. Now, both men are able to walk independently with a normal gait.

Barajas, who completed two passes across the stage in the EksoGT, explained what it was like to wear the exoskeleton.

“Once you get into that machine it helps you … do things without the full thinking process, as if you were acting normal, … just taking off walking,” said Barajas. “And, when you have something like that it greatly affects the mind. It puts you almost back to that place where ‘hey, everything’s normal; it’s going to be okay.’”

Joined by his wife, Garcia was emotional over his own progress and how far he has come. He says that during his stroke, he made a deal with God, and he must now fulfill his end of the bargain and start training for a marathon. Barajas says he will join him.

Although, Garcia and Barajas are exemplary examples, other patients have benefited from the EksoGT. Auer says that since the hospital purchased two EksoGTs in April and finished training in May, 30 patients have used the machines to complete their physical therapy, taken 62,000 cumulative steps. But, Auer is quick to point out that it is the physical therapists that really do the hard work for their patients.

“Similar to the robotics … used in our surgical suites with our doctors – that robot that the surgeons use is only as good as the surgeon controlling it,” said Auer. “So very similar to Ekso –  it’s only going to be as good as the therapist using the device.”

All the physical therapists at the Rehabilitation Hospital at Renaissance took a two-week certification course to operate the EskoGT. Auer adds that the physical therapists at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance have their doctorates and are very passionate about helping their patients, which is why they pushed to get these life-altering machines.

“We have people looking at the numbers right now. They’re looking at the numbers to see is it really doing what we say it is,” said Auer. “What we’re seeing so far, the answer is yes. We are seeing improvement. We are seeing … a return in our investment.”

For more information about the EksoGT, visit the Ekso Bionics website at eksobionics.com/eksohealth/products/