Published on 29 August 2019
A dad was able to achieve his dream of walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding thanks to ground-breaking research at East Kent Hospitals Trust.
Steve Barnes, 59, is one of just 20 patients involved in a trial at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital using the latest robotic technology to help people with progressive conditions such as multiple sclerosis re-learn how to walk again.
He travelled from his home in Reading, Berkshire, to Canterbury for sessions in the device, known as a Rex robotic exo-skeleton, and the results were better than he dared hope.
Steve said: “At the start of the trial I could only stand for 30 seconds. At the end they asked me to do it for two minutes, and those two minutes were effortless. I am sure I could have gone on and done more.
“I was also able to balance while looking over my shoulder and reaching forward while standing – it felt quite revelatory being able to do these things.”
It focuses on strengthening core abdominal muscles by encouraging people to actively use these muscles while moving from sit to stand and back to sit, as well as lifting arm weights and throwing and catching a balloon. The machine also ‘walks’ them forward and back slowly, allowing them to consciously focus on these muscles to improve balance, mobility and strength.
Steve was then able to practise the exercises at home ahead of his daughter Coral’s wedding to fiancé James at Mill Hall, near Newbury.
He said: “It was really emotional – the night before the wedding, my daughter gave me some socks with the words ‘slow and steady’ on and the date.
“I didn’t want to let her down and even that morning the registrar said we might have to think about using the scooter as my legs were hardly functioning but I was able to do it and it was brilliant.
“The whole day was fantastic but the fact I was able to walk her down the aisle was the icing on the cake.”
Steve’s wife Jane drove him for up to five hours for each session in the exo-skeleton, but the journeys were worth it because of the improvement in his abilities.
He said: “It has been so positive for me. I continue to struggle but it has given me new hope, a useful set of tools to use and a foundation to build on.
“I had developed bad habits, like keeping my left leg straightened because I was scared it would give way. The suit forces you to bend your knee and restimulate good practice and posture, and it did kickstart a desire to stand straighter and walk better.
“It gave me a focus and the ability to switch muscles on and off that will stay with me, even now the trial has finished.”
The trial is led by East Kent Hospitals Neuro-rehabilitation Director Dr Mohamed Sakel and consultant clinical and research neuro-physiotherapist Karen Saunders.
Dr Sakel said: “We have the opportunity with this trial to help people make a real difference to their lives.
“The machine takes away the risk of falling and the fear that accompanies it and allows people to become confident in a safe environment. They can retrain their muscles and build up their strength so they are able to realise the benefits outside of the machine as well.
“I’m delighted to see the results from patients such as Steve and am looking forward to analysing the data and seeing if we can help even more people in the future.”