Exoskeleton body suit offers high tech help for those unable to walk

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A woman who had a stroke and can no longer walk is getting hope from some state-of-the-art technology. 

It's somewhat strange looking, but the exoskeleton is giving 58-year-old Pat Zoma of Port Huron her movement back. She never thought she'd be relying on a robotic body suit to walk. 

"It gave me confidence; I didn't have much confidence walking. I was always scared to walk, even with someone," she says. "It strengthened my leg and my arm."

Pat has lupus, which raises her risk for stroke. And one night in February, that nightmare became reality.  

"It happened when I was sleeping. I woke and I was numb everywhere. I went to step and I fell. I couldn't move, and then I called 911," she remembers. 

That was her first of three strokes, which is a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. Pat ended up at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, where she still receives treatment. The strokes robbed her ability to move her legs. 

"You can look at your leg say, and really concentrate and say, 'I want you to move,' and it just won't do anything," she says. 

That's where the state of the art exoskeleton works its magic. When Pat goes in for therapy, she sits and the exoskeleton is strapped to her legs and feet. It gives her support, but also bridges the gap between her own weakness and her brain learning how to walk again. 

"It teaches the patient how to feel again, how to move the right way," a Henry Ford Health System rehabilitation services team member explains. "The exo machine is like showing them the path, how to feel, how to walk again. And then suddenly they'll go, 'Aha! That's how it feels to move again.' And then they get it."

Pat is so appreciative of this high tech help, but she's also hopeful for the day she doesn't need it. 

She says her goal is to one-day walk again by herself. 

Henry Ford Macomb is one of the few places in Michigan that has the exoskeleton. It was a $200,000 donation.