A Cork man who is 85% paralyzed will walk a marathon with the help of an ultra-advanced robotic exoskeleton.
Twenty-six-year-old Nathan Kirwan from Currabinny, Co. Cork will attempt 55,000 steps in the exoskeleton machine over the course of five months around Cork City and suburbs.
His mission is to raise funds to keep the expensive device in Ireland, so that it can be used by others who are wheelchair bound.
Kirwan is appealing for the public to sponsor just €2.00 ($2.25) for every step he takes during this ‘Walk with Me Challenge’ to cover the €150,000 ($168,300) cost of purchasing Ireland’s first gym-based exoskeleton. It is presently housed at Elite Gym in Cork and if it is not financed in full before October 2015, it will be returned to the manufacturer.
The exoskeleton, aptly named Lasarus, will not only continue to assist Nathan to walk, but it can be used by others who have suffered stroke, MS or spinal cord injury. It is the only one of its kind available to the public in Ireland and people have been traveling to Cork from throughout Ireland – and even as far as France – to use it.
Asked what Lasarus means to wheelchair users, Nathan said, “This is not necessarily about walking. This is about standing up out of a permanent sitting position, moving in a walking motion, whilst getting the benefits of walking. Able bodied people need to walk to stay healthy and this is especially true for wheelchair users.”
Exoskeletons were originally designed for military use, to help soldiers carry heavy loads both in and out of combat. It is hoped that they will now play a big role in the lives of people with spinal injuries.
In June 2013 Nathan severed his spinal cord in a fall that resulted in a C4 injury, meaning he is paralyzed from the chest down.
He explains the benefits of the exoskeleton: “Physical exercise is essential for everyone, especially wheelchair users, and the exoskeleton gives users the benefits of walking. Naturally enough it enhances blood flow, retains bone density, reduces muscle atrophy and promotes better bladder and bowel function. Users have reported being elated and having an enormous sense of wellbeing following use.”
He added, “The first time I saw it being used I thought, this makes sense. I need one as does everyone else in my situation. For now, this is the closest thing to walking that is available. No more sitting, wishing, waiting.”
Nathan, along with five-time world kickboxing champion Colin O’Shaughnessy, founded Helpful Steps, a ‘first in the world’ concept where the exoskeleton is used as an exercise machine in a general gym.
“I wanted users to feel they could get away from clinical settings where a user would have to wait for a hospital appointment,” he explained. “Using Lazarus in the gym makes you feel normal and included in society. The device is currently rented for 12 months. If we don’t raise the funds we must return it and we can’t let that happen, so once we have raised the funds for Cork, Helpful Steps hopes to roll out the concept for every county in Ireland.
“Small steps can lead to big leaps.”
The Walk with Me challenge will officially get underway on May 3 in Dublin, at the Wings for Life run, a charity that raises funds for research projects dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injury.
Donations can be made via the Helpful Steps page on GoFundMe.
The culmination of the fundraising drive will be a gala ball in City Hall Cork on Saturday October 10, where Nathan will complete his marathon.
For more information see www.helpfulsteps.ie.