It was generally assumed that permanent lower-body paralysis meant a wheelchair-bound life.
But nearly two years ago, Claire Lomas challenged that assumption when she became the first paralyzed person to use the ReWalk bionic exoskeleton. But she didn't just walk down the block, she walked the route of the London Marathon.
Now people with lower-body paralysis caused by spinal injuries (T7-L5 paraplegics) in the United States -- there around 200,000 -- will be able to take advantage of the innovative technology, as ReWalk was approved for use today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The device works by attaching a motorized brace that supports the legs and part of the upper body and moves hips, knees, and ankles. A wireless control worn on the wrist allows the user to tell the device to walk, sit, or stand.
"Innovative devices such as ReWalk go a long way towards helping individuals with spinal cord injuries gain some mobility," said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a statement. "Along with physical therapy, training and assistance from a caregiver, these individuals may be able to use these devices to walk again in their homes and in their communities."
The device isn't cheap, around $70,000 in the E.U. But by using the device, patients could significantly reduce medical bills associated with long-term wheelchair use. And it could lead to benefits that are hard to quantify.
"ReWalk provides paralyzed individuals with the ability to stand and walk, to look someone in the eye, to hug and be hugged. These are simple acts which many of our ReWalkers thought they would never be able to do again," said Jeff Dykan, ReWalk's Chairman of the Board, in a statement. "When you take that into account in addition to the health benefits, it underscores just how monumental a day this is for the SCI community here in the U.S."
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