MANILA — Mang Juanito, a jeepney driver with a family of six, suffered a stroke that nearly ended his life. The little money that he was able to set aside after many years of hard work was drained almost instantly, and it was not even nearly enough. His family was forced to borrow or ask for money to cover his hospital expenses.
The most difficult part of Mang Juanito’s survival is not his hospital ordeal nor pooling the money to pay for it. Rather, it is the long, boring days of being left at home way after he was discharged.
It is his bouts of depression and intense feeling of helplessness when thinking of himself as nothing but a mere burden to the family, instead of being the one to carry them on his back. Loss of movement and control over his body is making daily activities such as eating and taking a bath very, very frustrating for him.
Mang Juanito’s story is far more common than we realize. Stroke is in fact the second leading cause of death worldwide. It already poses a rising burden in the country and the rest of Southeast Asia. Most often, those who manage to survive to sustain life-long physical disabilities that are burdensome to their families.
Now, Mang Juanito, and many others with his condition, have the hope of walking, working, living, and being free to move again.
Robocare Solutions has brought to the Philippines the Hybrid Assisted Limb (HAL), the first and only robotic exoskeleton that trains the brains and limbs of a patient to walk again.
On June 29, 2021, Robocare with the City of Manila will unveil the country’s first-ever Neurological Rehabilitation Center at Ospital ng Maynila that features the HAL.
HAL is the leading advancement in addressing stroke and other neurologic conditions by helping patients recover their physical mobility. How does HAL train the brain and the limbs to walk? It uses what we call a biofeedback mechanism.
While working with a physical therapist, HAL is programmed to detect faint bio-electric signals on the surface of the skin, which reflects a patient’s intention to move.
Using these signals, HAL allows the wearer to perform the desired movements with their voluntary commands. The physical therapist can see these signals and adjust settings on the robot suit to amplify weak signals and focus on desired signals.
As Mang Juanito thinks about taking a step, his brain sends the necessary instructions to his leg muscles. However, because of the stroke he suffered, few signals make it through.
Those that did were too weak to make his legs move the way that he used to and this is where HAL kicks in.
When Mang Juanito undergoes a HAL treatment, the electrodes connected to each of his legs detect these faint signals and relay them to the exoskeleton fitted to his legs. The exoskeleton’s control system read these signals to understand Mang Juanito’s intention. The exoskeleton then assists Mang Juanito in doing the movement he wishes to make.
Scientifically, what HAL does is strengthen the signal pathway between the brain and the muscles until it ultimately helps patients learn to carry out the movements on their own. Once Mang Juanito initiated a movement with his brain, HAL simply helped his muscles move properly according to his intentions.
HAL does not merely put a patient through motions, it strengthens a neurological command. With consistent treatments, HAL helps a patient train his neural pathways for voluntary movement until he can eventually move on his or her own, unassisted.
This is what makes HAL unique from other available technologies. Other exoskeletons are programmed to take steps when a patient wears them, but they don’t generally improve patients’ ability to walk on their own. These patients should still wear the exoskeleton to move around.
With improved mobility, HAL patients also attest to having greater endurance, better posture, more control of bladder and bowel functions, and improvements to their respiratory system and cardiovascular health.
(Kiara Lauren Ibanez/BENJAMIN CUARESMA/AI/MTVN)