Exoskeleton helps DHR Health earn Texas’ only ‘Center of Excellence’ nod

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Stroke survivor Yvette Rangel walks with the assistance of a robotic exoskeleton at the DHR Health Neuron Therapy Institute on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

DHR Health celebrated Wednesday as it became the only healthcare facility in Texas, and fifth in the nation, to be named a “Center of Excellence” for its wearable and robotic exoskeleton.

The maker, Ekso Bionics, recognized DHR Health for the exoskeleton that acts as rehabilitation technology — the EksoNR, a robotic exoskeleton patients who’ve suffered from a stroke, a brain or spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis can wear to help in their physical rehab.

“We are beyond thrilled to be the first and exclusive titleholder of this certification in Texas,” Dr. Saroja Viswamitra said in a statement.

Viswamitra is the director of DHR Health’s physical medicine and rehabilitation.

“This remarkable achievement showcases DHR Health’s commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of those we serve, regionally and throughout our great state,” Viswamitra added.

The hospital system earned the recognition after meeting criteria including making research and clinical use of the EksoNR, collaborating with Ekso Bionics on the exoskeleton’s user advocacy and educational events, using the latest in rehabilitation technology and staffing a Level 3-trained physical therapist.

The exoskeleton helps augment a patient’s strength and provide support as they go through rehabilitation and relearn to walk.

“… (T)he device promotes early mobilization and can help improve gait speed and distance, which are critical factors for optimal recovery,” Dr. Michael Auer, director of DHR Health’s Neuro Therapy Institute, said in a statement. “Our goal is to optimize patient outcomes at every stage of the care journey.”

Stroke survivor Yvette Rangel walks with the assistance of a robotic exoskeleton at the DHR Health Neuro-Therapy Institute on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Yvette Rangel, a former DHR Health physical therapy assistant, credits the EksoNR system for her fast recovery after suffering from a stroke.

“EKSO NR can really help people who have gone through a stroke,” she said in a statement.

Rangel isn’t the only patient at DHR Health who’s benefited from Ekso technology.

In the fall of 2022, the EksoGT wearable exoskeleton aided PSJA football player Aaron Bazan, then a 14-year-old freshman, in his rehabilitation following an injury in August of that year.

As The Monitor previously reported, Bazan suffered from TBI, or a traumatic brain injury, after repeated hits during a single football game, and later required three hours of surgery to remove a large blood clot.

His injuries led to mobility issues, but after being treated inside a pediatric intensive care unit and then at the DHR Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Bazan began to make progress thanks to the EksoGT, according to family.

“Every single day he’s improving beyond what we expect from him,” Libby Garza, a physical therapist assistant at DHR Health told The Monitor in September 2022. “His first couple of days here he had a lot of trouble moving his leg and his arm and every single day, we’ve seen improvements in how much he can move and how strong he is.”