Robotics are helping paralyzed people walk again, but the price tag is huge

By Travis M. Andrews  Originally published in the Washington Post

Ashley Barnes was 35 years old when doctors told her she would never walk again. A botched spinal procedure in 2014 paralyzed her from the waist down. The Tyler, Tex., resident had been an avid runner, clocking six miles daily when not home with her then-9-year-old autistic son, whom she raised alone. Life in a wheelchair was not an option. “I needed to be the best mom I could be,” Barnes said. “I needed to be up and moving.” So she threw herself into physical therapy, convinced she would one day run again. Soon she realized that wasn’t a reality. Although she wore a brave face, “I would save my moments of crying for my room,” she said. About a year later, hope resurfaced when she learned of the ReWalk system, a battery-powered robotic exoskeleton that attaches to the legs and lower back. It contains motors at the knee and hip joints and sensors to help it adjust with each footfall. While wearing the device and holding two forearm crutches, someone with complete lower-limb paralysis can walk.

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