A patient story we would like to share with you features one of our Patient Ambassadors, Megan Burns, from Greater Chicago.
Before her injury, Megan was a healthy active adult in her early thirties. Megan enjoyed playing tennis a few times a week at her neighborhood courts in the summer. On Sundays, Megan would play golf with her partner Brian and her Aunt and Uncle. She also went on daily walks with her dog Chip. Megan and Brian also enjoyed hiking in Lake Geneva on the scenic lake path in the spring, summer, and fall in Wisconsin.
Megan also liked a little adventure. Shortly before her injury she hiked up the Devils Doorway at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin, enjoyed zip lining down mountains in the Jamaican rainforest, and walked up the 600-foot-long landmark Dunn’s River waterfall. Every May, Megan and her cousin Mindy would go for an adrenaline rush and ride all the big roller coasters at Six Flags Great America; rain or shine!
Megan’s entire life changed in December of 2015 when she had a stroke in her spinal cord caused by a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM). A spinal AVM is a rare, abnormal tangle of blood vessels on, in, or near the spinal cord. Due to the spinal cord stroke, Megan underwent a resectioning of her spinal cord which was performed in February of 2016. After her AVM and resectioning surgery, Megan was diagnosed with a T-12- incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI).
Post-injury, Megan used a wheelchair to get around. Over time with physical therapy and lots of hard work, she was able to progress to walking with a wheeled walker and eventually a straight cane and AFO (ankle foot orthoses) braces. Doctors were thrilled with this progress since her original prognosis was that she would always need to use a wheelchair. Although the progress was great, Megan did not accept that she had reached the end of her journey towards walking independently. She would rely on her cane for stability and drag her legs through the motions of walking. For Megan, this was not the best solution and was not the peak of her progress!
Megan was introduced to Ekso in the fall of 2017 which was two years after her injury. Still not satisfied with the quality of her gait, she went to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab website to look for rehabilitation help. Megan saw they were seeking participants for a study called WISE (Walking Improvement for SCI with Exoskeleton) which was looking at comparing Ekso rehab with traditional rehab for incomplete spinal cord injured patients. She fit the study criteria and signed up immediately. Luckily, Megan started as a participant of the trial in the first quarter of 2018. She would end up using Ekso three days per week for twelve weeks and here is what happened next:
First session – Megan found her balance with the help of the preGait functions and her posture began to recover.
Third session – She became very comfortable and confident in the device. Megan learned how to work together with the exoskeleton, that Ekso was not walking for her, and stopped fighting it. At this point she really started to learn from it.
“It was here that I realized I need to take the information I learned in Ekso and carry it over into real life. This is where I realized the importance of Ekso and the steps. I was taking 500+ steps in my first few sessions of 45 minutes each. That was more steps than I was taking in days. Not only was I thrilled at the step quantity, but also the quality. The step pattern in Ekso is natural and would not allow me to drag my toes. You can only take quality steps in the device.”
Fifth session – Together with her therapist, Megan realized she had not used her calves in two years. She finally started pushing with her calves again to clear the toes that were curled under from foot drop. Even today, Megan says, “I still hear my PT when I am walking to PUSH.”
Session twelve – Megan stopped using her AFO because she was engaging her calves with every step. By the twelfth session she was taking 900+ steps in Ekso each time, including backward and forward walking.
By session twenty Megan was walking in the community completely unassisted—no more cane!
And the best news of all, by the thirty-sixth session in Ekso Megan was back to golfing, a goal of hers since her injury back in late 2015.
“Now, in outpatient, my therapists are kind and patient, but also challenge me. MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital is now my family.”
Today, Megan still can’t feel her legs from the waist down but has been able to build up her muscles in her legs in order to keep walking. She has carried on with all the lessons from her Ekso training and has been walking unassisted for nearly two years! She has returned to using Ekso in the outpatient setting, for what she calls “tune ups”. As a busy professional and someone who travels for pleasure as often as she can, Megan tends to get busy with life moving quickly and returns to some old habits—short steps, not weight-shifting, and dragging her toes.
“Every time I use Ekso I learn something new and take it with me. I do have to think of every step I am going to take, but now it is so much easier.”
Megan would like to stress how much she believes in Ekso. So much so, that she would drive more than two hours round-trip for the twelve-week duration of the study to get into the device to keep learning to walk. We are so thrilled with Megan’s progress and her incredible return to the full life she was enjoying prior to her injury. Since regaining her balance and strength she has been able to get back to her adventurous side and has been parasailing, scuba diving, cliff jumping, and hiking at the Grand Canyon. She also has returned to joining friends for concerts and still makes her annual trip to Six Flags to ride the roller coasters with her cousin.
Megan’s success with Ekso has also led to her joining Ekso Bionics as a Patient Ambassador so she can continue to share her story with as many people as possible and spread hope.