At age 17, former Sheffield High School football player Raylan Winston was involved in a car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. He has since applied the “never give up” mindset that served him well on the gridiron to his physical and occupational therapy rehabilitation at Children’s of Alabama.
“I had been a football player my whole life, but then I had the car wreck and I had to change my plans.” Raylan said. “But I’m still an athlete in my mind and in my heart.”
Since January 2019, Raylan has been part of Children’s Robotics and Mobility Program (RAMP), which is designed to help increase strength, mobility and functional skills in children and adolescents with physical impairment. RAMP’s technology-assisted therapies enable patients to practice movements and activities that they may otherwise be unable to perform.
Raylan looks forward to using the Ekso Robotic Exoskeleton during his biweekly appointments. The exoskeleton, or wearable robot, uses motors and sensors that help a child or adolescent to walk with an efficient, repetitive gait pattern, helping the body re-learn proper step pattern and weight shifts. The exoskeleton can provide therapists with immediate feedback from each step the patient takes, showing how much work the machine is doing versus how much work the child is doing. During one Tuesday morning appointment, Raylan’s face beamed with pride as his therapists informed him he was doing most of the work on his own while in the exoskeleton. Every step Raylan takes is a step toward his hopeful future. Like the most attuned athletes, he listens to his body. He has regained some feeling in his legs and hips, and notes his right leg is stronger than his left. He concentrates on his posture as he walks laps around the rehabilitation room, keeping his head lifted and hips tucked.
“I couldn’t always feel my legs like I can now. It gives me a lot of hope and a lot more motivation,” Raylan said. “Some days you’re down and you think you’ll never make it, but seeing the exoskeleton and feeling the movement … It makes me want to work harder.”