“A real Christmas miracle” courtesy of Israel

Israeli high-tech got a shout out in this week’s episode of the hit TV show ‘Glee‘.  Artie Abrams, a wheelchair-bound character on the show, has a recurring dream of walking.  Artie’s girlfriend Brittany Pierce asks Santa to give him the ability to walk for Christmas.  In the end, it wasn’t jolly, old St. Nick that made the dream come true, but the generosity of another character who delivered the brainchild of an Israeli startup.

“It’s called a ReWalk.  Some guy in Israel invented it.”

ReWalk was designed by Dr. Amit Goffer, himself a quadriplegic, who wanted to create an alternative to the wheelchair.

The 35-pound (16-kilogram) device, worn outside of clothing, consists of leg braces outfitted with motion sensors and motorized joints that respond to subtle changes in upper-body movement and shifts in balance. A harness around the patient’s waist and shoulders keeps the suit in place, and a backpack holds the computer and rechargeable 3 1/2-hour battery.

Learning to walk again

The ReWalk has been undergoing trials and has been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration for use in hospitals and rehabilitations centers.  Initial results are quite promising:

When Floyd Morrow’s spinal cord was severed in 2006, doctors told him he would never take another step, but a revolutionary new device will give Morrow and other paraplegics the chance to walk again.

“It’s the greatest thing,” Morrow, 62, said, speaking about the first time he donned the device called ReWalk, a motorized exoskeleton that enables wheelchair users with permanent lower limb disabilities to stand, walk and even climb stairs.

“Just to be able to push a button and it’s like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ Go cruising down the hallway, oh, it’s awesome,” said Morrow….

Alysse Einbender suffered a spinal stroke in 2004. The 50-year-old from Wyncote, Pa., is among the trial participants….

“You know, personally what the ReWalk has … meant to me, it’s shown me a lot of what my body can do, instead of all the things it can’t do. And it’s been hugely valuable to me,” she said.

This summer, San Antonio, Texas local news covered the participation of a teenage young woman who is the youngest participant in the ReWalk trials.

A small device with a big impact

The 35 pound device is making a difference in the lives of those who use it beyond helping them get around.

Alberto Esquenazi, M.D., the director of the gait-and-motion-analysis laboratory and regional amputee center at Moss, has been impressed with the results. “We’ve seen marked improvement in cardiopulmonary response—basically, they’re exercising in a more natural way,” he says, noting that the simple acts of standing and walking actually offer tremendous exercise benefit, from cardiovascular development to bone strength. “We’ve seen an improvement in their tolerance to standing and a sense of emotional reward in being able to stand and walk again. In the long term, we suspect that it’s going to be beneficial for bones.”

And, even with a heavy price tag, overall treatment costs are predicted to be lower with ReWalk.

ReWalk also reduces expenses for taxpayers, the company says. On average, a paraplegic costs HMOs in the US over $270,000 during the first year of hospitalization and almost $28,000 in each subsequent year, including re-hospitalization and treatment for conditions such as pressure sores, recurrent urinary tract and other urological infections, and others.

Israeli innovation

The ReWalk is just one chapter in the story of Israeli innovation, brought about by the challenges Israel has faced and the culture of ingenuity those challenges have fostered, which is contributing so much to the progress of the world in health, technology, and the environment.