Hope out of despair as injured rider sees future where he can walk again
Sixteen months ago a horse riding accident changed Jonjo Bright's life forever.
At the age of 19 the promising young jockey was left paralysed from the neck down after the accident while competing in the Tyrella point to point horse race.
It was a terrible blow for the young man whose greatest passion in life was racing.
At just five years old Jonjo became a member of the East Antrim Pony Club and very quickly developed into a skilled rider. He competed all over Ireland, Scotland and Wales in showjumping competitions.
His teenage years were dedicated to pursuing his dream of becoming a jockey and in 2011, at the age of 17, he rode in his first point to point.
Over the next year he rode horses for various owners and showed great potential as an up and coming young jockey.
But his dream of riding winners was shattered on March 2, 2013, the day of his accident.
Despite his devastating injuries, Jonjo has maintained a remarkably positive attitude.
He had vowed to one day walk again, and this week the impossible suddenly became possible thanks to the wonders of science.
Like something straight from the pages of a sci-fi novel, in a bionic suit a beaming Jonjo stood up and took 37 steps across the floor in front of his proud parents, John and Jayne.
This piece of technology, the Ekso Bionic Suit, which Jonjo tried out at the RACE Academy in Kildare on Monday, has shown what the future could hold for him and many other paralysed people like him.
The suit, which is manufactured by Ekso Bionics in California, is a wearable battery-powered bionic suit — or robot — that enables people who have been paralysed 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.
“It is an incredible piece of kit,” said Jonjo.
“To be upright and walking is incredible.
“This has been the biggest thing to happen to me so far.”
He added: “It is essential to keep your bones right in the hope some day there is future treatment and you want to be ready for it.”
Belfast man Patrick McStravick, who is director of operations at Ekso Bionics in the United States, was today due to meet with Health Minister Edwin Poots to try and convince him of the benefits of making this ground-breaking piece of technology available in Northern Ireland.
Mr McStravick said the suit helped people with paralysis to stay physically healthy and also build up muscles so that they can work towards to 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,” he said.
“Ekso Bionics is helping people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable.”