The advancement of robotic assistance in movement and walking took a sizable step forward (so to speak) with the Veterans Administration
now covering the cost of and transition to the ReWalk
powered exoskeleton on a national basis. It will be supplied to qualifying veterans with spinal cord injuries, but that qualification is a substantial hurdle in itself. According to the AP article
, height and weight requirements are specific, and the paraplegic veteran has to be capable of wearing the supportive belt around the waist to keep the suit in place and carrying a backpack which holds the computer and rechargeable battery. Crutches still must be used for stability and the FDA as part of its clearance requires an assistant be nearby. It also cannot be worn for a full day, but even minimal use was proven to be beneficial; in VA pilot studies, the paraplegics who wore the ReWalk as little as four hours a week for three to five months experienced better bowel and bladder function, reduced back pain, improved sleep and less fatigue.
ReWalk has identified 45 paralyzed veterans who qualify, and the VA is training 12 centers in equipping veterans with the exoskeleton, including the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx which was in the pilot that included veteran Gene Laureano (left), depicted in the AP story last Wednesday wearing them (again). On the private market, ReWalk costs $77,000 each which has held back its adoption as few insurers cover it; of the 36 wearers, they have paid for it through fundraising or out of pocket. ReWalk gained de novo FDA clearance last year [TTA 2 July 14], it’s now in its sixth iteration (depicted) and we have been covering it (and its exoskeleton brethren like Wyss’ Exosuit, Honda’s, Cyberdyne’s HAL and EKSO Bionics) since 2011. Digital Trends, NPR (includes video)