'Wearable robots' helping brain injury patients walk again

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Patients who were told that they would never walk again are regaining mobility with new, state-of-the-art technology.

Nearly three years ago, Luke Garver was a senior at Katy Taylor High School. He was athletic and in the prime of his life.

All that changed as he sped home on Interstate 10 one night.

"I looked down to change the radio and as soon as I looked up, there was a car in front of me," Luke said. "So I swerved to the right and blacked out. I came to when an off-duty ambulance (worker) opened the door and he told me to take off my seatbelt and get out of the car and when I tried to, I couldn't move my legs."

Luke suffered a broken back and is paralyzed from the neck down.

"Well, the doctor told me I'll never walk again, but I have a lot of faith and I believe I will," said Luke. "So it's just a matter of time."

Luke is now walking again with the help of a wearable robot called an exoskeleton.

At the new Memorial Hermann TIRR NeuroRecovery Research Center, patients are regaining mobility with this technology.

"This device will assist a person with stroke or spinal cord injury or brain injury to be trained how to walk once again," explained Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gerard Francisco.

The wearable robots of this next generation are helping bring down the cost of rehabilitation by speeding up the recovery time and building the patient's independence.

"It was pretty amazing," Luke said as he recalled his first time walking with the exoskeleton. "I was actually ecstatic because I was able to walk outside and that was really fun for me."

"When he walked outside, the first thing out of his mouth is, 'I haven't walked outside in over two years' and he just lit up and I was like, 'Oh my God! I didn't think about that.' It's exciting, very exciting," said Luke's mom, Kristin Garver.

Dr. Gerard Francisco gave Local 2 an exclusive demonstration of the newest exoskeleton. It was developed by NASA engineers and is being researched by the University of Houston.

The non-invasive skull cap worn by a stroke patient actually reads the brainwaves.

"If we have a better understanding of what happens in the brain, then we will have more information when we design treatments in the future," Dr. Francisco explained.

"It's definitely new technology and I think it's great for people in my position," Luke said.

"It's the best," said Luke's mom. "It's fantastic! I wish everyone could have one."

TIRR is one of the few places in the world using the latest wearable robots in rehabilitation therapy.

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