Healthwatch: Hope for Paraplegics

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An amazing new machine may help thousands of paralyzed patients walk again.

The development of the robotic treadmill was inspired by actor Christopher Reeve's efforts to walk again. The new device helps paralyzed patients take new steps to improve their lives.

"What the auto ambulator will do is allow patients who are paralyzed to actually stand up while supported, to allow them to bear weight partially and allow them to perform repetitive movement in a patterned fashion," said Neurologist Dr. Swaid Swaid.

Healthsouth in Birmingham developed the high tech machine about two years ago. Swaid has seen patients improve within the first three to six months of therapy.

"We believe this pattern activity will result in sensory and other input into the spinal cord that in a complex scheme might allow recovery of previously damaged or injured spinal cord tissue," said Swaid.

Multiple Sclerosis patient Ginger Scarborough now has increased endurance, stamina, and balance. She no longer wears a leg brace to walk. Dr. Swaid says the repetitive movement helps reduce complications, which accompany paralysis.

The creator of the auto ambulator, Richard Scrushy, says he believes the new equipment will also reduce healthcare costs.

"When you take an MS patient or stroke patient, they can't take care of themselves and now they can," said Scrushy. "That's going to reduce the cost of healthcare because we don't have to pay people to take care of them now."