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Kathy Vara, Lori Bentley
Aaron Bloom hasn't been able to walk since July 2010, but this week, that all changed thanks to new technology being used at Huntington Memorial Hospital. "It was a very powerful feeling to be upright and just be able to look people in the eye," Bloom said. Kathy Vara reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2012.
This week, Aaron Bloom did something he hasn't been able to do since his accidental fall in July 2010: he took a walk.
The 27 year old is one of three patients testing the Ekso, a battery-powered bionic suit or exoskeleton, which is strapped over his clothing.
"I don't really need anybody holding on to me," he said. "I can lift my hands up and put a little weight through these crutches, and feel pretty comfortable."
Huntington Memorial Hospital is the first hospital in Southern California to offer this new technology to patients.
"Spinal cord injury patients, there is no cure for that right now. They can't walk on their own. They can put long leg braces on and do it, but it's an awkward walk," said Michael Parkinson, with Huntington Hospital Rehabilitation.
"To see a patient come in, and put the device on and walk, just even though it was 10 feet when they first showed us, was pretty incredible."
Sensors in the foot plate pinpoint the center of gravity so Bloom can balance and take a step. The back pack is a computer with two lithium batteries on either side to drive the hip and knee motors.
Bloom used a spotter to be safe, but he has now learned to balance and advance the machine on his own.
"At first it felt very scary, but also it was a very powerful feeling to be upright and just be able to look people in the eye and move across the room in a standing position," Bloom said.
Right now the bionic suits are used only in rehabilitation centers, but Bloom said he is looking forward to the day when people will use the technology in their everyday lives.
"Having something like this to look forward to and keep you healthy and keep you energized is really important, I think, so that's why I really want other people to have a chance to use something like this," Bloom said.
But the bionic suits aren't cheap. The Esko walking machine costs about $150,000. Bloom’s suit was a gift from two local donors.