Sammy plans charity pier walk after trial helps her find her feet again

Sammy Lane in the Rex device
Sammy practising her exercises in the Rex device

Published on 13 January 2020

A woman who previously could not stand without falling is planning to walk the length of Southend pier for charity thanks to her progress in a ground-breaking clinical trial.

Sammy Lane, 32, who lives in Southend, Essex, could not walk a single step before taking part in the trial at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. It aims to use the latest robotic technology to help people living with multiple sclerosis re-learn how to walk again, while also improving balance and posture.

After five sessions with East Kent Hospitals’ Neuro-rehabilitation Director, Consultant Dr Mohamed Sakel, and Consultant clinical and research neuro-physiotherapist Karen Saunders, Sammy can now walk with two sticks.

The mum of two said: “It’s been an amazing transformation. I haven’t been able to get upstairs at home since the beginning of last year, or to get up from the floor, and now I can do both. 

“My next challenge is to walk Southend pier. I think it will take me about eight hours but I’m determined to do it this summer.”

Sammy first heard about the trial when she spotted it on Facebook. And it was perfect timing, as she was offered one of the 20 places the day she was discharged from hospital after an infection that left her unable to move her legs. 

She was initially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, after experiencing problems with her vision and numbness in her legs.

The birth of her children, just a year and two weeks apart, triggered a relapse and she was left relying on a wheelchair. But further relapses meant she struggled to move her legs at all. 

Sammy said: “One day I went to bed with a headache and when I woke up I couldn’t move my legs at all.

“Then it happened again, and each time I had to go to inpatient physio rehabilitation to learn how to move again. 

“My children have to live with their dad as I’m not able to look after them. But they’ve been amazed by my progress and were so stunned the first time I showed them I could walk.”

Sammy’s partner Maff drove her from their home to Canterbury for sessions in the device, known as a Rex robotic exo-skeleton. 

The trial uses the device as a rehabilitation tool to help people focus on strengthening core abdominal muscles. They can practise actively using 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.

Sammy said: “I thought I would get to play in a machine that would make me walk. But it’s not a walking machine, it’s a piece of equipment that helps you build up your muscles.

“It’s hard work, and you have to constantly remember to ‘switch on’ your core muscles. But I think I learned more in an hour as part of the trial than I did in two months in physio rehab.” 

Sammy now practises at home to maintain her improvement and is planning to tackle the 1.34 mile pier this summer for a homeless charity.

Dr Sakel said: “It has been wonderful to see Sammy progress during her sessions with us, and to have the unique opportunity with this trial to help people make a real difference to their lives. 

“We are delighted to see how wide and positive the impact of the trial has been, and to hear about the many benefits reported by our participants.

“People have been able to work towards and achieve their own individual goals with the support of the trial team thanks to our collaborative, innovative solution.” 

As well as qualitative measures such as people achieving their goals, the trial records quantitative data, including people’s clinical risk of falling.

If people have fewer falls, it can reduce potential demand on their local health and care services.