Belfast Telegraph

Amazing bionic man - paralysed jockey on feet again thanks to help of incredible Ekso Suit invention

By Deborah McAleese

A young jockey who was paralysed from the neck down after a riding accident is able to walk again with the help of an incredible bionic suit.

Jonjo Bright, who was seriously injured in March last year during a race at Tyrella, said it was a dream come true to be able to stand up straight and walk.

The 20-year-old Antrim man's remarkable feat was made possible by a technological break-through reminiscent of something from The Six Million Dollar Man.

The Ekso Bionic Suit is a wearable robot that enables individuals with any amount of lower extremity weakness to stand up and walk.

Walking is achieved by the user's weight shifting to activate sensors in the device which initiate steps. Battery-powered motors drive the legs, replacing deficient neuromuscular function. The suit provides daily walking exercise for survivors of stroke and spinal injury.

Jonjo had the opportunity to try the suit on this week when it was unveiled during an event in Kildare by the company behind it, Ekso Bionics of California. He took 37 steps.

"It was brilliant. It is a huge breakthrough. The suit is something I have known about since I got hurt but I never imagined that one day I would get the opportunity to try it.

"I didn't think I would be able to use it because I'm quite a high level injury, so when I began to walk it was a great feeling. It felt very natural, not robotic like you would think," said Jonjo.

He added: "It is an incredible piece of kit. Usually when I stand my blood pressure would be low and I would get a sore head and become dizzy. In this suit the muscles are moving and blood is being pumped around the body. To be upright and walking and not feeling that horrible dizzy feeling is incredible."

Jonjo's father John Bright said: "No more sad days. He'll not be in a chair all his life."

The suits are not currently available in Northern Ireland or the Republic.

Representatives of Ekso Bionics were today due to meet with Health Minister Edwin Poots to try and convince him of the benefits of making the suits available here.

The suit was also to be showcased at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown today, where spinal injury campaigner Mark Pollock – who became the first blind man to reach the South Pole – will demonstrate the benefits of the technology.

Jonjo said that to have the technology available here would be life-changing for him and others like him.

"To me, to have a suit available in Northern Ireland would be a dream come true – to be able to stand up straight and take steps on a regular basis.

"We are not designed to sit in a chair all day long. The health benefits for me would be so good.

"Hopefully in the future this suit will be available for me and others like me to use," he said.

Belfast man Patrick McStravick, who is director of operations at Ekso Bionics, said he would love to see the suit available in Northern Ireland, and to possibly manufacture it here.

He said that the Ekso helps people with paralysis stay physically healthy and also build up muscles so that they can work towards the goal of walking unaided should medical breakthroughs finally allow it.

"A good friend of mine had an accident and became a quadriplegic so I am very passionate about my job to help people walk. Ekso Bionics is helping people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable," added Mr McStravick.

Belfast Telegraph