New Device Brings Rising Hope For People In Wheelchairs

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The next generation in wheelchairs is helping people stand up whenever they want, thanks to a new robotic device called Tek RMD.

Four wheels, elastic straps and a joystick are rolling out a new sense of freedom for Bill Winchester.

“I’ll try to bring most of myself up as tight as I can for the most part, I’ll squeeze this handle and stand up,” he said.

During a bike race last year, the Truckee Meadows Fire Department captain struck an illegally parked trailer, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

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“In the beginning stages, I lost a lot of self confidence, so I’m trying to gain that back as much as possible,” he said.

The new technology is part of that solution. A Segway-like device allows people with spinal cord injuries to stand and move upright.

“It puts you back in the same postural position that you were in – that I was in – prior to my accident,” he said. “So, it allows my to get that confidence, that self confidence, that ability to be recognized as an adult standing. The mental element of looking eye-to-eye to somebody is a tremendous mental and moral accomplishment.”

The avid athlete has been able to stand up in physical therapy, but the 200-pound mobility robot allows him to navigate through his house with greater ease than a traditional wheelchair.

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“Many homes, especially the older homes, they have really narrow bathrooms that are usually 24, 25 inches wide,” he said. “Well, my chair is 24 to 25 inches wide. So, if I can’t get into the bathroom, I’ve got to figure out what to do.”

He gave a tour of his home to show the difference it makes in everything from grabbing food off the shelf to standing up and doing his hair—simple things in life many take for granted.

Innovations Health Services CEO Dan Niccum says demand for the device is so high, his company is nearly sold out through the first quarter of 2016.

“It takes someone in a wheelchair who can access 45 percent of their home—they can’t cook, they can’t iron, they can’t vacuum and it puts them in a situation where they can access 90 percent of their home,” he said.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, 270,000 Americans live with a spinal cord injury.

Sonny Ali recently became part of that statistic during an anniversary trip to Tahoe with his wife and twin boys.

“I was on a snow tube and it took a wild turn. And instead of going down the hill, I went down a cliff,” he said.

During physical therapy at SCI Fit in Natomas, the computer network engineer swapped his traditional wheelchair for a test run with the TEK. He didn’t waste any time, scoring an upright kiss from his wife.

“It’s more emotional than it is physical. My accident was last December and I’m used to being down there. That’s my new life, my new norm. For me to occasionally stand up and be at eye level with other people it’s big,” he said.

Even with a $20,000 price tag, Ali says he’s hoping to buy one soon.

“This is an adaptive device that would bring so much freedom to my life. And for the price, I think it’s worth it,” he said.

The device is not covered by insurance, yet, but could be in the next two to three years.

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