Step by step: Woman regains mobility with exoskeleton

NMMC physical therapist Steve Bryson helps Carla Belue learn how to move with the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton. Once she is fully trained, the Red Bay woman, who has relied on a wheelchair for 24 years, will be able to move independently around her home and community. Thomas Wells, Daily Journal photo

by Michaela Morris, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal December 20, 2016

TUPELO – Science fiction is walking into reality for Carla Belue of Red Bay, Alabama.

Belue, who has relied on a wheelchair for 24 years, has been taking steps with help of the ReWalk exoskeleton. She is training to use the wearable robotic exoskeleton at North Mississippi Medical Center Outpatient Rehabilitation in preparation for using it at home.

“It’s better than Disney World,” said the 42-year-old substitute teacher whose legs were paralyzed in a car wreck during her freshman year at Northeast Mississippi Community College.

Since the week of Thanksgiving, Belue has been putting in 90-minute sessions three days a week to master the robotic exoskeleton, which is triggered by shifts in her center of gravity to take steps.

“Carla has gotten to the point she’s doing most of the work,” said physical therapist Steve Bryson.

Mastering the 60-pound ReWalk takes a lot of upper-body strength to supplement her balance. Belue has fought through sore shoulders and dizziness, as well as back and leg spasms.

“It’s exhausting, but it’s the best kind of exhausting,” Belue said. “I don’t want to stop. Stopping is the worst part.”

Belue’s dedication to the process has been extraordinary.

“She’s inspiring,” said Tupelo neurosurgeon Dr. Louis Rosa, who has treated Belue since 2002 and helped her connect with resources in Tupelo to do her training at NMMC, a first for Mississippi. “She’s ahead of schedule.”

Belue and her husband Rodney began investigating the ReWalk after a spring conference. She was evaluated in Birmingham in May. ReWalk has been FDA-approved since 2014 for paraplegics who meet specific guidelines.

In addition to the practical and psychological benefits of improved mobility, the exoskeleton improves posture, lung function and bone density compared to being in a wheelchair, Rosa said.

The exoskeleton is approved by the Veterans Administration, but most health insurers don’t yet cover it. Belue and her family raised the $77,000 for the system through fundraisers this fall. She said they are grateful for the tremendous community support, from people who donated change to those who helped with substantial contributions.

Carla Belue is learning to walk again thanks to modern technology. The Red Bay, Alabama, resident has been in a wheelchair for 24 years. But she is taking steps with the help of the ReWalk exoskeleton. Belue is training to use the exoskeleton at North Mississippi Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Tupelo in preparation for using it at home. The wearable robotic device is triggered by shifts in the person’s center of gravity to take steps. Published on YouTube Dec 19, 2016

“They are changing my life,” Belue said.

Once she is trained, Belue plans to use the exoskeleton around her house all the time. She eventually hopes to use it at church and other controlled environments.

Her daughter Allyson Elliott, a senior at the University of Mississippi, has never known her mom out of a wheelchair.

“It’s amazing,” Elliott said as she watched her mom do laps around the 135-foot mini track inside the physical therapy gym.

Source Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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