A different kind of first steps

“10 children participated in our clinical program. Even after two years of preparations, everyone was still nervous about how ALICE would perform. We were probably just as excited when we saw him stand up on his own!”

Patient on ALICE clinical Trials. INDI Ingenieria y Diseño. June 2019

The team had been developing Exoskeletons for a while. We started with adults in 2015 and our big shot was to take them to Switzerland @ Cybathlon, to put them to the test against the biggest and meanest rehabilitation and mobility devices out there (you know, ReWalk and the other guys). But building for children truly is something else.

Challenges started internally. Just trying to convince our own doctor (my brother) to accept working with pediatric patients was a struggle.

“Risk factors, difficulty in complying with all paperwork and regulation, specialized communication skills… everything seemed to be a lot tougher.”

It took about 2.5 years to gather the support and work out all the details needed to ensure a proper and safe design which would achieve the functionality our patients were expecting (they waited enough and patiently for it, thank God!) while also guaranteeing their comfort. And even then, we genuinely were scared our robot wouldn’t perform to their expectations!

A volunteer selection program allowed anyone (applicable) to enrol and test the device. In the end, 10 children with varied motor disabilities participated in our clinical program.

“Greeting them in the hospital was one of the most nerve-wrecking moments of my life.” (textual account of my brother)

These children and their families had literally been waiting for years, for that moment. We already knew one of the patients’ grandmothers, and we know what making a << Mexican abuela >> angry means.

It is always a bit of a let down when not all of the patients can ultimately use these robots because of counter-indications such as spasticity and sensitive tissue which is prone to injury, but thankfully most patients were approved for use.

And so it was the moment of truth.

Paciente con ALICE en pruebas clínicas. June 2019
Paciente con ALICE en bipedestación. INDI Ingeniería y Diseño. June 2019
ALICE with Patient. INDI Ingeniería y Diseño. June 2019

It didn’t go as easy as it looks in the pictures. It took a bit of trial and error, a bit of adjusting from the patients and definitely a bit of adjusting on ergonomic parts we integrated to achieve the machine-body experience we were looking for. But neither our patients nor our team was about to give up.

“The first sessions were actually pretty tough and patients struggled to even begin using the robot.

Patient with ALICE standing up. INDI Ingeniería y Diseño. June 2019

Remember the patient and his << abuela >> ?

This little guy was properly determined (maybe the pressure on him came from the same woman as that on us) even though his condition was one of the most severely impairing and he was approaching 13, so his size and weight were also on the upper range of the robot’s supporting limit.

He was quickly able to walk by using ALICE along with a partial support system common in rehabilitation centers and we were definitely satisfied with the results but it wasn’t enough for him and for multiple sessions he tried and tried but couldn’t seem to stand up and walk on his own. He had reached the device’s limit.

It was on his last session that he decided he would go support-less and try to stand up one last time.

We were shocked and just as excited -if not more- when we saw him stand up on his own!

Needless to say, and to everyone’s surprise, he definitely managed to do it. With this, he also pushed our own beliefs of what our beloved pediatric exoskeleton was actually able to do.

Author’s note:

Oseas Gutiérrez, Ulises Tamez-Duque and Paoline Coulson standing proud after finishing clinical trials @ Hospital Zambrano Hellion, Monterrey México. alice SITS IN THE MIDDLE.

Oseas Gutiérrez, Ulises Tamez-Duque and Paoline Coulson standing proud after finishing clinical trials @ Hospital Zambrano Hellion, Monterrey México. alice SITS IN THE MIDDLE.

It is a bit hard for me to explain what I feel as I take another look at these pictures and write about them. A mixture of happiness and disbelief.

I think we all mostly feel fortunate for having the chance to be part of projects like this. And honestly happy to say it spurred from and took place in México, a country which we would personally like to make famous for more than Tacos and Tequila.

Pictured, it’s definitely not the whole team of people who took us here. And here is definitely not the last place we’re going. These are small numbers compared to those still waiting for more from us.

These are -still- just first steps.

Thank you for reading,
Jesús Tamez-Duque

Jesús Tamez-DuqueComment