Patients in rehab benefit from advances in robotics: L-R: Angela Carpenter, Mike VanHorn, Debbie Goldberg, Paul Brown, Terry Pittman

An exoskeleton robot, likely the only one if its kind in private practice, is helping paralyzed patients walk again in Fairfax County. Dr. Valerie Gibson, DPT of Advanced Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center in Vienna, specializes in the treatment of neurological diseases and injuries, and has been able to take many wheelchair-bound patients back into the walking realm with the help of the Ekso GT robotic exoskeleton. Dr. Gibson assesses each case independently, and her goal is to maximize her patients’ potential for recovery and their general well-being. Walking tall is one of the best ways to accomplish this.

The Ekso GT™ robotic exoskeleton is a comprehensive gait therapy tool which provides an effective rehabilitation experience for patients and therapists alike. High-tech braces and intricate, versatile rods enable each patient to have custom support while it assists with leg movement. By promoting earlier mobility, physical therapists can help those recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury get back on their feet sooner. At the same time, the robotic exoskeleton can reduce the physical strain on therapists and the likelihood of injury during rehabilitation sessions.

Dr. Gibson, a neurologic physical therapist, says that her patients are getting their lives back. Gibson explains, “I am interested in modalities that have shown promise in facilitating an improvement in patients’ quality of life. My experience has made me aware of the difficulties patients with progressive disabilities encounter, and of the profound effect of these difficulties on family relationships, employment, social interactions, and self-esteem."

Debbie Goldberg, one of Dr. Gibson’s patients, explains the benefits. “The Ekso robot is a fantastic innovation. I have been wheelchair-bound for ten years, and standing and walking again are quite liberating. When I see myself walking on video I can't believe it's me. After returning from a session, I can stand up more independently at home. I have seen friends with spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, stroke, and MS walk with the Ekso robot and they all look great!”

Patients that formerly walked with ease until an accident are excited to see the progress that the Ekso robot can offer.

Paul Brown, another client, discusses his need for walking assistance. “I am a C-5 incomplete from a diving accident. I've been fortunate to use the Ekso Bionics for the past 7 months. My physical improvements include increased stamina, improved blood pressure and most importantly, [it’s] reduced my pain (by 70%) and spasticity (by 50%) on the days I walk. I can't quantify the overall mental improvement but walking has changed my overall outlook and has given me ‘real’ hope that I will one day no longer need my wheelchair.” Brown has been using the robot since December of 2015, and visits the physical therapy center several times a week.

Ekso GT enables intensive, over-ground gait training and is designed to support the re-learning of correct step patterns and weight shifts, all for the benefit of patients like Angela Carpenter. She states, “Advanced Physical Therapy has given me more hope for recovery and a safe place to grow! The Ekso robot has given me the ability to stand and walk again while building leg strength and balance ability. The robot is the walking tool for my recovery!”

Variable Assist™, the robot’s “smart” software, dynamically provides variable power to either side of the body, and promotes a greater number of high-quality steps in a shorter time period. The robot exoskeleton encourages correct posture, proper midline orientation and balance awareness, making covering ground a real and tangible goal. Clients say it is a wonderful feeling to be able to talk eye-to-eye with people again, and not up from a wheelchair.

Gibson, a licensed physical therapist since 1982, has seen so much progress with the Ekso robot and other assistive technologies that she is pleased to report her business is growing yet again. “With all the patients needing more walk time and room, we’re going to get a bigger space to help them.” Advanced Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, LLC, will be relocating to a new 4,500 square foot space on Old Courthouse Road in November.

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