After doctors originally gave Marylou Soto just pain medication for what was later detected as a seriously damaging cyst to her spinal cord, the Orange County mom now has a second chance to walk again.
"A few days after Thanksgiving, I had really bad pain in my back. I went to two other emergency rooms until I came here to San Pedro," the mother of two said. "The surgeon did tell me that I came just in time."
She spent the holidays in the hospital recovering from surgery to remove the cyst, which left her an "incomplete paraplegic" — unable to stand up, let alone walk. She dabbed at tears in her eyes when she recalled what it was like to explain this year's Christmas to her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.
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But a robotic exoskeleton at Providence Little Company of Mary San Pedro hospital has helped Soto essentially relearn how to walk again in just five rehab sessions.
"We call it a robot," she said. "It's helping me feel and reminding my body how to walk again."
The 70-pound structure is controlled by physical therapists and monitors how much of each step Soto is able to take on her own. When she started the therapy, the robot was doing 90 percent of the work on each side of her body. Now she's able to completely move her right leg on her own while the exoskeleton supplies 15 percent of the effort for her left.
"It's a huge recovery in a very short amount of time," said Jennifer Cowan, a physical therapist assistant at the hospital.
"When we first started, she was not able to walk," Cowan explained. "Now with the exo, within the five sessions, she can walk with a walker and braces on her legs."
Soto plans to use the exoskeleton throughout her recovery in outpatient therapy as she looks forward to heading home from the hospital with her husband and kids.
"I definitely have to be strong and get myself because they need me and I have to be there," she said.