Patient will walk a mile in Eksoskeleton to Raise Funds for Patient Assistance Fund
On Saturday, June 12, at 9 a.m. Diana Pelletier, a Reading Hospital Rehabilitation at Wyomissing (RHRW) patient, will “Reclaim the Day” after a 2007 car accident left her with paralysis. This year she plans to walk one mile in the EksoNR robotic exoskeleton, a wearable device that helps patients stand and relearn to walk, while improving their sense of confidence and freedom.
Each year around the time of her accident Diana plans a “Reclaim the Day” activity to celebrate life by participate in an exciting event she planned. In coordination with this year’s one-mile walk Diana hopes to raise $5,280, one dollar to represent the total number of feet in a mile. The funds will be donated to the EKSO Patient Assistance Fund at the Reading Hospital Foundation and will provide financial assistance for patients who would like to have additional sessions and EKSO program development with the device at RHRW.
On June 16, 2007 Diana, her husband, and their two children ages 22 months and three and a half weeks, were driving to an event in Gettysburg when she lost control of her car. Her children and husband sustained minor injuries, but she broke her neck between the fourth and fifth vertebrae, broke bones in her left hand, and suffered significant head trauma. The accident left her paralyzed from the chest down and initially she could only breathe with the help of a ventilator.
“This event is what I would characterize as my Humpty Dumpty fall,” she said. “I had been strolling through life when suddenly everything changed. After the accident I was left broken in mind, body, and spirit, unsure of what each new day would bring.”
Diana was placed in a medically induced coma for a week and a half. Diana spent seven weeks in a titanium halo and was not able to turn her head. She was only able to see what was directly in front of her. She also spent four weeks in intensive care and then was sent to a rehabilitation hospital four hours from her home, so she was only able to see her young children on the weekends.
At the rehab hospital her function began to come back slowly. At first, she could only move her shoulders, followed by her elbows, and wrists. The movement in the fingers on her right hand came back one at a time. Then she noticed that when she was being turned from side to side by a nurse or an aid, it felt like her right leg was helping to push her over. Her physical therapists confirmed there was movement in her leg, and they started trying to have her stand.
Diana shared, “I was often surrounded by family, friends, doctors and nurses who wanted to help put me back together, but they could only do so much. It was up to me to figure out how I was going to engage my new state of brokenness and the process of healing. My physical therapy sessions were intense. I was learning to feed myself and dress myself, to brush my teeth, and my hair. I was working on sitting up without falling over and taking those first steps. I was figuring out how to hold my children. I was learning to be patient with everyone who was trying to help and learning to be patient with myself. At the end of each day, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.”
With the help of her rehabilitation team Diana was once again able to take care of herself and her children, drive an adapted van, do the grocery shopping, and clean her house. She primarily uses a power wheelchair but can use a walker when someone is available to spot her.
Kelley Crozier, MD, Chair, Department of Physical Medicine said “I am looking forward to seeing Diana cross the finish line on June 12. Our team can’t wait to celebrate this amazing milestone with her. When she first came to our facility in February 2021 she was not walking. She hasn’t walked a mile on her own since her accident so this is no easy feat. She’s been training with our wonderful team of therapists, so we know she is ready.”
Past “Reclaim the Day” events that Diana participated in include: a motorcycle ride, a hot air balloon ride, flying a Cessna four-seater airplane, horseback riding, a family trip to Disney World, sailing in a 42-foot sailboat, whitewater rafting, soaring, jet skiing in Bermuda, and a family picnic in the woods.
“We are honored to be part of Diana’s ‘Reclaim the Day’ activity this year,” said Katherine Thornton, President, Reading Hospital Foundation. “The generous donations provided to the Reading Hospital Foundation are life-changing for our patients and this is the perfect example. The funds Diana raises will help additional patients continue their recovery journey.”
Reading Hospital Rehabilitation at Wyomissing (RHRW) offers the EksoNR robotic exoskeleton, thanks to gifts from generous donations through Reading Hospital Foundation, the first exoskeleton indicated for brain injury, stroke, and spinal cord injury. RHRW uses the device to encourage patients’ mobility earlier in their rehabilitation, which can improve outcomes.