On April 23, 2013, my life changed forever. I suffered a C7 incomplete spinal cord injury in a motor scooter accident and ended up paralyzed from the chest down. My life was devastated and I was feeling broken. I'm lucky to have a large network of family and friends that helped me through that very hard time. I went from having a titanium rod put in my neck at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles to an inpatient program at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California, one of the nation’s top facilities. I went through a whole battery of tests and met with my family, doctors, PTs and nurses for a group assessment and some clarity about what to expect. After being told I would never walk again I resigned myself to a life of immobility and hardship. As you can imagine, and some of you have experienced, this really pulled the rug out from under me. Here I was, 49 years old having to completely relearn everything I had ever done. Not having the ability to jump up, get out and get stuff done, experience life and be physically fit. I have always been very active and in fact made my living for a while teaching fitness and wellness for many years in Hollywood and aboard five cruise ships for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
I started physical therapy and was feeling like a beached whale when one day after about four weeks of rehabilitation, I moved my left toe. From that moment on I knew I could heal myself. Now my work really began. For the last four years I have studied and practiced Acupuncture, Pilates, Yoga, Physical Training, Dance and Rolfing. I have also been able to utilize my background in physical fitness and dance in my therapy. Sometimes all the input I get makes my head spin! I take in all this valuable input and then cherry pick certain things for different daily routines.
I have managed to come quite a long way and have been walking for the last two years. I have used many different physical therapy training tools, including the robotic exoskeleton Lokomat and any other tools that were at my disposal. I get bored easily and am always eager to try new things and I sometimes feel I have exhausted my repertoire of daily ways to try and improve on the work I have done. I also try to keep up with more cutting edge technology in PT. When I was asked to start using the Indego exoskeleton I was really excited. I had heard of these and the chance to be one of the first to use it at Rancho was an honor.
Although my walking had been improving steadily, I saw that I could use this tool to help me gain a better sense of balance, posture and correct walking gait. The first time I used the Indego it was a little awkward because I've spent the last four years trying to regain control of my muscles and nerves. With the Indego, however, you have to initially give up that control and let the Indego teach you what to do. The most amazing thing for me was about six to eight hours later I started to feel muscles, tendons and nerves in my back, core, and all the way to my toes wake up and start firing and connecting again. I was so excited and a little freaked out! I mean, I'm lying there I could sense this deep muscle connection in places I thought were lost forever. And it hits me...THIS is why I work so hard. To be able to get back even the smallest amount of sensation means everything to me.
I knew that the Indego had a big part in this. I could already tell that one of the things this amazing tool could help me with was my posture and correcting my pelvic tilt. As I got to using Indego more frequently, we worked on specific adjustments that targeted all my problem areas in regaining proper balance and strength. Unfortunately, I have been using an unbalance wheelchair for four years and I tilt to the left when I stand from using my right arm, transverse oblique and shoulder muscles to compensate for the imbalance in the chair. This also means my left side is weaker on the top but stronger on the bottom, and my right side is stronger on the top and weaker on the bottom. So I am basically a zig-zag! I ride horses and this was going to really help me with my posture, core balance, and my seat in the saddle. I've ridden my whole life and want to be able to hold myself on my mount and ride unassisted. I'm not quite there yet but check back in a few weeks.
I immediately contacted Parker Hannifin and told them how amazing the Indego is. I am so excited about the work I am doing with my team at Rancho Los Amigos and the care, time, and work they, with the help of the Indego, are putting into my healing. The future of what Parker Hannifin is doing with robotics is going to be exciting. If Indego is any indication of what's to come, sign me up!
This article was contributed by Indego user, Ben Westbrook.