Eight years ago, Greg Durso lost the ability to walk. On Tuesday morning at St. Charles Hospital, he walked across a room under his own strength.
“I got to hug my sister for the first time in eight years,” said Durso, 31, a senior banking analyst at Empire National Bank in Islandia.
The device that enabled Durso to walk again is called an “exoskeleton.” It is a 26-pound, motorized robotic leg brace that supports a patient from mid-chest and down. Parker Hannifin Corp., the Cleveland-based manufacturer behind the exoskeleton, received approval by the FDA for clinical use in March of this year.
St. Charles is one of nine hospitals nationwide, and the only on Long Island, to use the device in clinical trial. Durso, a Stony Brook resident, received a phone call last month to come in and try it.
And try it, he did.
“The look on her face, and the look on his face, pretty much did the rest of us,” said Marilyn Fabbricante, executive director of public and external affairs at the hospital. “Other versions have been approved in recent years, but they have been extremely cumbersome, requiring patients to wear a backpack.”
Eight years ago, on New Year’s Day 2009, Durso and his friends went sledding at Yakima Mountain. Durso lost control of his sled and struck a stump, shattering his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the mid-back down.
Durso, an avid skier who loved to play sports, didn’t give up on his active life. In 2014, he participated in an Iron Man.
“I wanted to do the same thing as before,” he said.
Once the approximately $80,000 personal unit is attached, a mobile app controls the motion. The patient’s breathing and movement then generate the mechanism’s forward motion.
“It shows how many steps the patient is taking, how he walks and if he’s improving his gait,” Fabbricante said of the app.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center projected in 2016 that about 17,000 citizens suffer from spinal-cord injuries annually. Durso said he is hopeful the exoskeleton will improve lives.
“It’s nice to be in eye-level with everybody again, to realize how tall I am,” Durso said. “Even though I’m not that tall, everything just kind of flows better. I take one step at a time, literally, working with St. Charles. It gives an outlook and a hope that there’s going to be something out there to help spinal cord patients walk again.”