Atlanta Hospital First To Use Exoskeleton Built For Children

Jun 16, 2015

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is the first pediatric hospital in the U.S. to utilize the Bionic Exoskeleton designed by Ekso Bionics to assist children and teen patients in rehab.
Credit Ekso Bionics

Science fiction is meeting reality at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where the pediatric hospital has become the first in the country to use a new exoskeleton in a pediatric rehabilitation environment.

The exo suit allows kids to get up and start moving quicker after an injury, said Erin Eggebracht, a physical therapist at Children Healthcare of Atlanta.
Credit Brenna Beech / WABE

In cases of complete paralysis, an exoskeleton can help, at least partly, power an immobile arm or leg. A number adult facilities have been working with exoskeletons for some time, but Children’s Healthcare is the first in Atlanta to get an exo suit by Ekso Bionics.

What this suit does is allows kids to get up and start moving quicker – maybe earlier than they’s be able to after an injury, Erin Eggebrecht, a physical therapist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Center for Advanced Technology and Robotic Rehabilitation said during an interview on “A Closer Look.”

The first exoskeletons were made for paralyzed patients. “Now we can also work with individuals that have some movement in their limbs.”

Eighteen-year-old Chip Madrin walks with the assistance of the Esko exoskeleton. Chip was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 13. He's now cancer-free.
Credit Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Eggebrecht has been using the exo suit for the past month in therapy with 18-year-old Chip Madrin. At 13 the teenager was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, he was unable to walk, talk or even swallow for months.

Chip has undergone intensive rehabilitation over the past several years, and has since regained his motor skills, according to the hospital. Using the exoskeleton, Chip is able to get up and walk with a normal gait pattern.

“Over the last four years, we’ve tried to get his life back,” Chip’s mother Lea Madrin said during the interview on “A Closer Look.”

Madrin said they took Chip to Chicago a few years ago as they searched for programs to help the teen.

“We did a great program there. It was great,” she said. “It’s not half as good as what Erin has built here at Children’s Healthcare.” 

“So we are just thrilled to death we don’t have to go anywhere and we can have the best, most progressive treatment that’s out there for my son.”

When Chip first started using the exoskeleton he could take about 200 steps in 20 minutes, Eggebrecht said. “Now he can take about 1000 steps in 20 minutes.”

As Madrin explained, the machine “forces him to walk in a proper pattern” to “retrain his brain.”

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta expects the exoskeleton to help many more young patients like Chip regain mobility.

WABE's Rose Scott contributed to this story.