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Stepping Into The Future: New Hi-Tech Exoskeletons Giving Stroke Victims The Ability To Walk Again

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Learning to walk again after a stroke can be a long and grueling process.

CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports that a concept you'd expect to see in a sci-fi movie is now helping real life stroke patients.

We used to think that there was only so much function you could recover after a stroke.

Now we know that the brain has an amazing capacity to "rewire" – to work around damaged areas by a process called neuro-plasticity.

That takes a lot of repetition and that's where exoskeletons come in.

The modern-day, real world version of sci-fi exoskeletons are called the Ekso GT. It's helping Karru Martinson learn how to walk again after he suffered a stroke seven months ago.

"I was paralyzed on right side, couldn't move my arm or leg, I had trouble speaking, swallowing," Martinson explained.

Thanks to rapid EMS response and clot-busting drugs, Karru survived and regained those functions by rewiring his brain. The Ekso GT facilitated the countless hours and repetitions to achieve the walking part of his rehab.

Karru Martinson in the Ekso GT. (Credit: CBS2)

Dr. Mar Cortes, co-director of the Abilities Research Center at Mount Sinai, says standing and walking has many benefits.

"Psychosocial benefits, cardiovascular benefits, increased bone density, better blood pressure, and fitness," Dr. Cortes detailed.

With the aid of a trained physical therapist, the Ekso GT also senses and adapts, providing the assistance Karru needs as his brain slowly rewires.

Karru Martinson in the Ekso GT. (Credit: CBS2)

"He looks like a real robot," Martinson's son said after seeing the hi-tech suit for the first time.

Now, after months of hard work, Karru can walk without assistance.

"I came in on a gurney and walked out. This gave me hope," Martinson said.

"It gave him independence... we're back to life!" his wife, Kathryn added.

Karru Martinson walking without the Ekso GT. (Credit: CBS2)

The Ekso GT is now in more than 240 rehabilitation centers in over 30 countries around the world.

Patients have taken 100 million steps - about 50,000 miles - in the exoskeleton during rehab sessions. All of which has enabled stroke and spinal cord patients to learn to walk again.

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