Bionic leg brace a boon for polio victim

BIONIC MAN: Briton John Simpson can walk naturally -
BIONIC MAN: Briton John Simpson can walk naturally –

A man who has been unable to walk since contracting polio as a young child is able to walk naturally again after becoming the first person to be fitted with a lower limb bionic exoskeleton.

John Simpson, 63, said his life had been revolutionised by the Bluetooth-controlled leg brace that monitors his steps 50 times a second. The brace contains computers and sensors on his thigh, intuitively moving as he moves.

Made of carbon fibre, it is stronger than steel and powered by a simple battery that he charges at night like a phone.

Simpson, a father of three from southwest London, said the toughest challenge was putting his full trust in the technology and allowing himself to put his entire weight on to the brace without fear of injury.

He said: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to walk with a locked-knee steel calliper which I had to manually adjust whenever I wanted to bend my leg. If that malfunctioned, I broke my leg.

“This technology requires the ultimate trust as I have to put all my weight on it and trust that it will bend my leg.

“Essentially, I’m having to learn to walk again.”

Simpson contracted polio when he fell at the age of two and cut his chin open.

The disease attacks the nerve endings and muscles, and doctors thought he might not survive. But he pulled through, with only his lower left leg affected.

“I am the luckiest person alive,” he said. “It taught me a lot of lessons in life and set me in good stead.”

The Ottobock C-Brace is the first that can be worn solely on the lower limb.

A spokeswoman said: “Other exoskeleton suits are full body or have to be worn on both legs. It’s a real breakthrough for technology.”

The brace costs between £45 000 (R782 500) and £60 000 (R1.04-million).

Simpson heard about the technology through contacts at his On Course Foundation, a military charity that teaches wounded servicemen and women how to play golf.

He has played to a high standard since his early teens and has enjoyed a successful career as senior vice-president of International Management Group (IMG), managing sportsmen such as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman and Sebastian Coe.

– The Telegraph 

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