Sasha’s Story:  With Robot’s Help, She’s Walking Again

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When University of Dayton student Sasha Pavlenko suffered a spinal cord injury after a fall from a balcony on St. Patrick’s Day 2016, she was told she might not walk again. “That’s anyone’s worst nightmare,” Sasha said. “Waking up and someone saying, ‘We don’t know if you’re going to walk again.’ Your stomach drops.”

Erin Sinkfield, lead therapist for Miami Valley Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation physical therapy, said Sasha faced a difficult challenge as she began her recovery. “Sasha was not able to walk at all when she started with us,” Sinkfield said. “She started using the Ekso in our inpatient rehab program. And she was able to start walking.”

The Ekso Bionics GT Robotic Exoskeleton helped Sasha walk again. For use in patients who have suffered a spinal injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or lower extremity weakness, Ekso is designed for gait training and supports a sit-to-stand movement, as well as walking — actions that patients might not otherwise be able to perform.  “People were meant to move,” said  Benjamin Gilliotte, MD medical director of the hospital’s  “We weren’t meant to be seated or lying in bed all the time.”

Technology to Make Life Easier

Patients using Ekso show improvement in balance and the overall number of steps taken. By helping patients stand upright and walk, the device also can help prevent bone loss, improve circulation, decrease pain, improve posture, reduce spasms, improve range of motion and muscle flexibility, improve sleep, and improve muscle strength and functioning. Perhaps most importantly, it gives patients hope and encouragement as they progress in their rehabilitation and recovery.

“Walking is always one of those things that people want to focus on after they’ve had a stroke or a spinal cord injury,” said Michael Pedoto, MD, medical director of the hospital’s Brain Injury Program. “And to be up that first time and actually be walking — the look on their face is unbelievable.”

“I remember the first time they told me about the Exsoskeleton. I was laying in my hospital bed and they were like, ‘We’re gonna get you up in the robot tomorrow,’ Sasha recalls. “Even though I was kind of scared, it was great. I was walking. It was great to see the world at that angle again.”

Sasha’s therapy moved along nicely. It was eight days from her fall until her first session with the Exoskeleton. A therapist can program the battery-powered Ekso with parameters such as step length and speed, changing the parameters as the patient’s movement improves. It provides immediate biofeedback during gait training for a better understanding of the patient’s needs and abilities.

“Using the Ekso, she was able to get a lot of walking practice in, and she is actually continuing to this day to recover,” Sinkfield said.

Little by little Sasha is returning to her normal life, using a cane less and less often as she recovers her ability to walk. She resumed her studies at Sinclair College and has welcomed a puppy into the household. She is happy to be able to walk the puppy in the neighborhood.

“We always try to get the technology to make their life much easier,” says Antony Jacob, MD, medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Ohio. “Ekso is part of our ongoing effort to offer advanced neuro-rehabilitation technology. It is a huge benefit to many of our patients as it allows for early intervention and task-specific, repetitive exercises. This can help patients in recovery to learn to stand and walk again with a proper gait pattern, which may help to minimize compensatory behaviors such as pushing the body up with the arms when getting out of a chair or favoring one leg when standing and walking. Minimizing compensatory behaviors leads to improved patient outcomes.”

“Giving our patients that kind of ability really brings around a whole different person,” said Sinkfield. “They are able to get back to normal.”

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