Paralyzed student tests new bionic legs - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Paralyzed student tests new bionic legs

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On the road to recovery, Chris Norton is taking things one step at a time, and trying some new adaptive technology along the way.

"It was unreal," Norton said. "The program told you to lean forward, you lean forward and it feels that sensory of you pushing down and stands you up."

Norton was paralyzed from the neck down in a football game his freshman year at Luther College. Recently, he got a chance to test the Ekso, a bionic exoskeleton, or a wearable robot. The patient, by shifting their weight or using a remote, can walk with the device's assistance.

"It allows folks with lower limb paralysis or weakness to stand up and walk," said Susan Price of Ekso Bionics. "Particularly if they're told they'll never walk again, it's astounding."

Price said even through the Ekso can only be used in limited therapy sessions right now, the patient's experience standing on their own is powerful.

"Typically, the reaction is tears," she said. "Typically, once they stand up in the device, it's amazing. People cry. Just to have that ability to look people in the eye, they're speechless."

Norton said it was an incredible experience.

"I had complete control over how far I stepped and how high," Norton said. "And any part of my step it deemed wasn't strong enough, it would do for me."

The Ekso also tells therapists where it's assisting in a patient's stride, which helps them better target specific muscles for treatment. So even though Norton's hard work has already earned him huge steps in recovery, a device like the Ekso could bring him even closer to walking alone.

"I think there's a future where that could just be your legs, but for me, I'm just going to get as much independence and strength back as I can," Norton said.

And by helping test the Ekso lets him help improve the technology for others, just like his work with his SCI CAN Foundation.

"I definitely want to give back," Norton said. "I feel so fortunate for what I've been through. I've seen a lot of people in worse situations than I've been through, and I just want to help them as much as possible."

More information about Norton's SCI CAN Foundation, which helps others with traumatic spinal injuries, is available here.

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