New robot helps multiple sclerosis patients walk

CLEVELAND — Over the past 10 years, Kathy Miska has faced one of her biggest challenges.

“23 years ago I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis,” she explained. “It became progressive. My mobility was put to the test much more.

Miska, a former teacher, went from a cane to being completely dependent on a walker.

“I’ve always tried to stay on top as much as possible and change things up as much as possible,” she said.

His diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) came after a variety of symptoms, which worsened over time. Eventually the doctors discovered a legion on his brain and later Miska began to lose his sight.

“I had a lot of numbness. I had optic neuritis, so I was losing my sight. It’s very common for a lot of people to be diagnosed that way. It’s an early indicator,” Miska explained. This [MS] just keep attacking.

With a diagnosis of MS, Dr. Ashley Christopher, a physical therapy specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, says there’s usually no clear cause.

“Researchers think there’s this interaction between genetics and environmental factors that cause it,” she said. “Some common symptoms tend to be sensory changes, so numbness, tingling in the hands, feet or somewhere else in the body…sometimes people first notice weakness in one or the other area, maybe a hand, or feel like they can’t lift their foot.It’s a very variable presentation and even more variable depending on what their first symptom may be.

Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic.

A robotic device helps MS patients walk.

Although MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, it affects more women than men and makes basic functions like walking difficult, as was the case with Miska.

“My doctor wrote me a prescription for physical therapy and when I walked in they had just gotten this exoskeleton suit from the clinic in Cleveland…so they asked me if I wanted to try it on and I walk around in it,” she explained.

Miska would become one of 21 women to participate in the hospital’s study of access to this new device and its effectiveness on MS patients.

Once they’re in the suit, it has sensors and software designed to give them the right assistance when walking. So if someone has no voluntary control over their legs, then the device is able to provide all the support needed for a standing walking function,” explained Christopher. “We can adjust the device to provide just enough to give them a successful and healthy walk…it helps to work on the pose of the steps, the timing of the walk [and] all those things that are really necessary.

The robotic suit received FDA approval this month for use in MS patients. According to a press release, “The Cleveland Clinic clinical trial was one of the first pilot studies to determine its potential effectiveness for this patient population. It was funded by a generous donor and a Cleveland Clinic Caregiver Catalyst Grant.”

After 24 sessions lasting about an hour, Miska says she is taking healthier steps forward because she thinks “the whole experience has really helped me.”