New York hospital pioneers robotic-assisted therapy for children

A children’s hospital in New York is one of the pioneers of the pediatric use of robotic-assisted physical therapy. St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, the city’s largest provider of post-acute care to children with medical complexity, has a robotic neuro-rehabilitation program to treat young patients suffering from different types of brain injuries with the use of cutting-edge technology.

“We are caring for children who have had any sort of injury to their brain. That can include a brain tumor, a traumatic brain injury, it can include a stroke. Even can be cerebral palsy, and injury during birth, all of those different types of brain injuries allow, lend themselves to being treated in our neuro-rehabilitation program,” hospital CEO Edwin Simpser told Reuters.

Using different types of robotic equipment St. Mary’s patients are showing amazing results, he added.

“We have kids who were really never expected to walk or never expected to use their limbs and using our robotic equipment and using our new rehab program in general and the approach that we take we have made amazing strides with kids totally unexpectedly.” One such patient is Kael, who suffers from a spastic paralysis that makes walking difficult for the 12-year-old.

Three times a week Kael gets walking therapy on a device called “Lokomat,” where he gets suspended in a harness over a treadmill and the frame of the robot.

The robot, controlled by a computer, is attached to his legs moves him in a natural walking pattern. Lokomat is connected to a video game technology to motivate young patients.

“The Lokomat make me walk more straighter. And it helps me a lot walking,” Kael said after his therapy session.

Another patient Lindsay trains on the ArmeoSpring, a robotic exoskeleton widely used for arm and hand rehabilitation.

Lindsay was a 10-year-old when she suffered a paralyzing brain infection. She was completely immobilized and is suffering from scoliosis.

“She was pretty much incapacitated, non-responsive. We went through long, long periods of time where she was not able to function. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t do much anything,” Lindsay’s father Kenneth Marrow said.

After having back surgery last year, the 15-year-old started the robotic-assisted therapy this year and is now able to move her arm and communicate through an iPad.

Her father says he is thankful for the technology.

“I could barely turn my phone on. But now I don’t think I want to live without it. Seeing her, being able to move her arm like that you know, just to see her pick up a fork and eat or to wave, to say hello or to use her iPad. It’s amazing.”

Besides Lokomat and ArmeoSpring, the hospital has two other robotic rehabilitation devices. The “Nexstim” is a device that allows for non-invasive mapping of the brain, and “Erigo” is a tilt table that gradually moves patients into an upright position so they can regain the strength to stand.

The hospital hopes that the robotic-assisted therapy, combined with their traditional neuro-rehabilitation program that comprises neuropsychology, physical therapy, and occupational therapy will allow for a swift and complete recovery of their patients.

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