WINDSOR - A Nova Scotia woman determined to reclaim her independence after a devastating car crash is counting on her hometown community to help her stand on her own two feet again.
Amy Paradis, a 20-year-old from Windsor, has come a long way since she was placed on life support following a car crash that occurred on Dec. 26, 2009.
The crash marked the beginning of Paradis’ journey to recover from a severe spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed.
Doctors said she would never walk again after breaking her vertebrae at the C6/C7 level, but that only motivated Paradis to prove them wrong.
And it’s possible she could do just that by as early as this spring.
Paradis and her mother, Marlene Belliveau, operate FootPrints SCI-Recovery, a non-profit spinal cord injury recovery centre based in Windsor that has been fundraising to purchase an Ekso Bionics Exoskeleton.
The exoskeleton is a robotic suit that allows people living with paralysis to stand upright, and walk.
After years of intense mental and physical rehabilitative therapy, Paradis has regained function in her arms, core, hip, pelvic area and quadriceps. The added muscle strength in her core and upper body will prove to be key as she relearns how to walk using the exoskeleton.
“Amy is one of three quadriplegics worldwide that is able to walk in this. That’s how strong she’s got her body,” says Belliveau.
The official website for Ekso Bionics describes the technology as “a wearable bionic suit which enables individuals with any amount of lower extremity weakness to stand up and walk over ground with a natural, full weight bearing, reciprocal gait.”
According to Ekso, sensors activated by shifts in the user’s weight detect how the wearer of the suit wishes to move, and battery-powered motors push the legs forward.
The suit costs in excess of $80,000. In the immediate future, FootPrints must come up with $5,000 US for a down payment by Thursday, March 6, in order for the apparatus to be shipped from California the following day.
Belliveau says it is imperative the down payment is acquired by Thursday for the exoskeleton to arrive in time for March 24, the first day trainers from California will be visiting FootPrints’ training facility on Gerrish Street to teach Paradis, Belliveau and the therapists at FootPrints how to use the exoskeleton.
“We are breaking ground with this in Canada,” says Belliveau.
Paradis hopes to participate in a home study that would allow researchers to monitor the changes in her bone density and organs after one year with the suit, which would also be made available to other clients of FootPrints that are a match for the technology.
“It’s not meant for everybody,” Belliveau explains. “That’s determined on an individual assessment basis.”
Belliveau says the exoskeleton at FootPrints would be the only device of its kind east of Toronto, making this project something all residents of the Windsor area can be proud of.
“This is huge,” says Belliveau, who noted that the leading-edge device would draw people to Windsor.
So far, Rose Real Estate Limited, the Atlantic Superstore in Windsor, Pothier Motors and Nova Scotia’s own country music sensation Anne Murray have all donated money to help FootPrints purchase the exoskeleton.
Rose Real Estate is also hosting a gently used jewelry, scarf and handbag sale at the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre in Windsor on May 10 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The proceeds raised will go toward the purchase of the exoskeleton.
However, FootPrints is still in desperate need of more donations to secure the down payment that would make this dream a reality.
“If everybody in the town donated $20, this thing would be paid for,” Belliveau noted.
Belliveau says the exoskeleton gets people living with paralysis standing and walking in a natural way that improves circulation and organ function.
“It has a tremendous amount of health benefits.”
Donations can be placed online through http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/-let-s-get-amy-walking-/138717 or http://sci-recovery.ca/. Cash donations can be deposited directly into an account set up for FootPrints SCI-Recovery at any CIBC bank.