Claire Lomas using ReWalk Claire Lomas using ReWalk Claire Lomas shouts with joy as she passes Buckingham Palace on the last mile of the Virgin London Marathon on May 8, 2012. (Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Body suit offers new hope for the paralyzed

The ReWalk, a set of 'bionic trousers,' enables paraplegics to stand, walk and climb stairs.

“The first time I stood up, I started crying and had to sit down, it was so overwhelming.” ~ Sgt. Theresa Hannigan

When 27-year-old Claire Lomas was paralyzed from the waist down in a horseback riding accident six years ago, her doctors told her that she’d never be able to walk again. To the surprise of her physicians, last May, Lomas not only walked, but she finished the London Marathon, with a little help from the ReWalk, a bionic suit that gave this tenacious woman her freedom back.

The ReWalk, designed by Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer, enables paraplegics to stand, walk and climb stairs through motion sensors and an onboard computer system. The invention, which was developed with backing from Israeli venture capitalists, offers new hope that those paralyzed by everything from car accidents to snipers’ bullets, and in Claire Lomas’ case horseback riding incidents, will be able to walk again.

Detecting subtle changes in the center of gravity, the suit is a pair of mechanical legs attached to a backpack battery system. A forward tilt of the upper body triggers the first step and leaning back stops it.

"From the point of view of the disabled person it’s self-esteem, the dignity of the person ," Goffer said.

Lomas recalls, “Standing up in the ReWalk was strange at first, but it is such a great feeling being able to look people in the eye.”

She says that now one of her favorite experiences is to be able to stand up at a bar - something anyone who’s ever tried to order a drink in a crowded club can sympathize with. “To be stood up in this means everything to me,” she says. “It has really helped give me some of my independence back.”

One hope for the future is that the ReWalk, which has just received FDA approval, will soon be able to help wounded American soldiers get back on their feet and maybe even run in a marathon.

ReWalk made its television debut in the "Glee" episode “A Very Glee Christmas,” giving the wheelchair-bound a new voice for their cause.

Check out how a paralyzed man in NYC now walks with his bionic suit.


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