Pioneering users of ‘exoskeleton’ technology share their stories

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Their lives were changed forever by catastrophic health events which took away their ability to walk.

But thanks to advances in technology, Simon Kindleysides and Dale Messenger have become pioneers of cutting-edge exoskeleton equipment designed to help people who go through life-changing trauma and illness.

In 2013 Mr Kindleysides was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour which left him paralysed from the waist down.

In April this year, he became the first paralysed man to walk the London marathon route using his revolutionary ReWalk exo-suit.

Mr Kindleysides said: “It’s made a drastic change.

“You go from being paralysed and two-and-a-half foot tall to being able to stand up and being 5ft 11 in, being able to climb stairs and not always having to use the lift.

Mr Kindleysides was speaking at an industry event yesterday at Sheffield’s Steps Rehabilitation, where the equipment was being trialled and showcased to an audience of health professionals.

The walking equipment is not normally available on the NHS and was made available to Mr Kindleysides, of Norwich, with help from a private sponsor.

He added: “It’s not for everybody. But if people know about these trials they should grab every opportunity to come and trial it.”

Also at the event was Dale Messenger, who became paraplegic after being shot in military training in the Falkland Islands.

Mr Messenger told how his Ekso walking kit had a profound effect on his physical and mental recovery following the life-changing injuries.

Mr Messenger, of Gloucester, said: “I went through real pain. I was on a lot of opiates. Nothing I did was helping.

“I trialled Ekso three years after my injury. I loved it.

“By the end of the trial the pain levels went down significantly. That was big for me.

“It’s a big adjustment. Sport was a big thing in my army career and still is.

“My mental state improved, my physical state improved and

“I was able to go to the gym. And here we are today.”

The exoskeleton suits costs up to £150,000, along with the future costs of maintenance and replacement equipment.

Mr Messenger was provided with an Ekso exoskeleton kit after a landmark compensation case was pursued by law firm Stewarts.

Ben Rogers and Daniel Herman, partners at the firm, were among the first solicitors to secure payouts for the purchase of exoskeleton equipment for clients. They said an increase in the use of the technology was expected, but it would not by funded by the health service anytime soon.

Mr Rogers said: “The are suitable for people suffering from strokes or how have other neurological conditions. But the issue is funding. You’re not going to get them through the NHS.

There are currently around 25 exoskeletons being used by people in the UK for medical purposes.

Mr Herman added: “We expect that to increase significantly.

“We have a number of clients looking to purchase exoskeleton device in the next few months.”

Steps Rehabilitation, which opened just over a year ago on Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road, provides both residential and outpatient services for NHS and private patients.

Toria Chan, Clinical Director and founder of Steps, said there were plans to buy one or two of the exoskeleton suits to boost therapeutic treatments at the centre.

She said: “The way the body re-learns movement is by lots of repetition. If we can put somebody in one of these walking suits its less physically demanding for therapists.”