A BIONIC suit that simulates walking for paralysis sufferers — and is the only one of its kind in Ireland outside of a hospital setting — has broken down, sparking a fundraising campaign for an urgent replacement.
The exoskeleton was originally introduced by the US military to help soldiers carry heavy loads before being used by spinal cord injury survivors.
The device was more recently brought to Cork by Colin O’Shaughnessy, who runs Elite Fitness at the Marina Commerical Park, and uses the device to help those living with paralysis.
Research has shown that patients availing of exoskeletons can experience a number of significant health benefits which vary from better circulation, increased oxygen intake to reduced pain, better bowel and bladder function, and improved joint maintenance.
The device at Elite Fitness had just a five-year lifespan which it reached last year.
Nonetheless, Colin wants to use it for as long as possible until enough funds are raised for a permanent replacement, and so opted to have the device repaired when it broke down.
Speaking to The Echo he said: “There was fundraising done during the lockdown so we have €25,000 raised.
“However, the price of the exoskeleton altogether is €150,000. Lockdown showed us the effect that not having this had on the people who needed it. This had been part of their weekly routine and some were struggling and in pain from missing out on this.
“Some really regressed in their health as the exoskeleton has so many benefits internally as well. We don’t realise the many benefits standing has for people. Sitting in a chair all day can lead to many health problems such as severe bowel issues.”
He said the device is currently being repaired abroad.
“The exoskeleton is currently being repaired so we have been without it for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“This isn’t something you can send to your local mechanic to fix so we had to send it to Germany. The manufacturer has given us a replacement to use for the time being.
"However, it’s a bit like when you’re car is being fixed at the garage and they give you a vehicle to borrow. The one you have is never the same. We have paid out nearly €5,000 to get it fixed and are hoping to get that bit longer out of the current one, but what we really need is a new exoskeleton.”
Reopening after the lockdown was a bitter-sweet time for Colin but he remains determined to raise enough funds for a new exoskeleton.
“Two of the people who came to the gym passed away during the lockdown. While this was devastating we are still glad to be able to have improved their quality of life for the time they were with us. We want to have that for other people too.”
- To donate towards the exoskeleton visit GoFundMe