In this state-of-the-art facility specializing in the care of war wounded and severely disabled, Dr. Laurence Mailhan, rehabilitation doctor, put on this walking robot for a demonstration.
After installing a harness around her chest, she goes from sitting to standing and begins walking guided by the robot.
Its lower limbs are assisted by two mechanical structures that double that of its skeleton.
Designed to maintain the patient’s balance in a standing position, the “Atalante” exoskeleton can also be used to perform strengthening exercises for the lower limbs, trunk and upper limbs.
“For patients who can walk again, it saves time in rehabilitation,” explains Dr. Mailhan.
But, for those who will never be able to, the benefits are also numerous: “it has been shown that the upright position helps fight against osteoporosis or the risk of fractures. It can also improve transit or urinary disorders, breathing capacity and endurance,” she says.
Since its launch three years ago, around twenty hospitals in France have invested in the purchase of such a robot, designed by the French start-up Wandercraft.
If some competitors manufacture others in the world, “our model is the only one which balances itself and does not require the use of crutches to stabilize”, assures the co-founder of the company, Jean-Louis Constanta.
Cost of the exoskeleton: 220,000 euros. The Solidarité Défense association, which accompanies military and civilian personnel of the armies, offered it to the National Institute of Invalides before the summer.
“After a training phase for health personnel at the start of the school year, it is now operational”, welcomes its president, former minister Jean-Marie Bockel.
– “At eye level” –
Each year, between 250 and 300 French soldiers are injured in operations. Thanks to this acquisition, their care pathway “will be improved”, projects the association.
The device needs to be secured by being hung on ceiling rails or a “patient lift” system.
“A minimum of two people supervise the patient,” explains Laurence Mailhan. But all the wounded will not be able to benefit from it: “there are limits of size, weight, articular amplitude”. “We also check that there has been no bone loss to limit the risk of fractures,” she explains.
Thus, César (pseudonym), a 35-year-old former soldier, who remained quadriplegic after a mission in the Sahel ten years ago, now suffers from osteoporosis, which limits his ability to use the exoskeleton.
“If only he had existed at the time of my rehabilitation…”, he regrets.
Resident at the Invalides for nine years, he was however able to test it once: “what marked me was to find myself at the height of people, of looks, and no longer in a position of physical inferiority”, he confides.
Virginie Dubost, 37, in a wheelchair since a surfing accident five years ago, also insists on the “psychological” aspect: “just the fact of being standing, face-to-face with someone, c is just awesome!”
For this “civilian”, who follows physiotherapy sessions at the Invalides day hospital, walking with the exoskeleton completes her rehabilitation well. “The first time I tried it, it exhausted me a bit, but over time, I felt it strengthened my muscles and my cardio,” she says. Each weekly session has become “my bubble of pleasure”, she adds.