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Science and Technology

Paralyzed people are walking with robots at Drake

This is what actor Christopher Reeve dreamed of... a bionic machine that helps paralyzed people walk. Drake Center is one of 20 facilities in the world to have an Exoskeleton. It is kind of like a backpack with leg and foot support.

Therapists program the parameters and paraplegics can walk slowly. For 29 year old Kevin Moeller, who's been in a wheelchair ten years, it gives him new freedom and the ability to have his natural height of six foot.

Moeller, from Lebanon, was 19 when an accident at a metal shop compressed his spine and shattered his vertebrae. Instantly he lost all feeling below the waist. Now ten years later he is part of something pretty special at the Drake Center.

Very athletic in his earlier life, Moeller played football, baseball and basketball. The Lebanon paraplegic still stays in shape and now competes in sled hockey’s minor leagues.  Moeller agreed to help test the walking machine called the Exoskeleton. If you stand it up it looks like a big backpack with leg and foot support. Physical therapists have to adjust the Exoskeleton to the right size.

It can fit somebody who is 5-2 to 6-2. It took them about five minutes strap Moeller in. They use a control pad to program the walking parameters like the step length and speed. You can hear the robotics as Moeller walks.


The Exoskeleton didn’t magically appear. President of the UC Health Foundation Penny Pensak explains.

“A gentleman named Larry Williams had been the interim development director at Drake and he called me one day and said I’ve got this donor and he found this thing and it lets people walk and it’s robotic and it’s fabulous and he wants us to get it. It’s like really, what are you talking about. Let’s back up and slow down.”

The donor was Bruce Flory, a paraplegic. Drake now has it and physical therapist Paige Thomas calls it an amazing piece of technology.

“Right now it may not 100% replace the wheelchair but at least it gives people another option to be able to stand and be weight bearing and be at eye level with folks.”

Here is a longer version of this story. (posted by Monday afternoon)