Bionic breakthroughs

November 17, 2011 3:01:33 PM PST
Two-hundred-fifty thousand Americans are living with a spinal cord injury. Fifty-three percent have lost the use of their legs. The rest, have lost the use of their arms and legs. Now bionic breakthroughs are changing the game for these people-helping them to move around like never before.

Robotic legs that allow those who never thought they would walk again-to take another step.

Although it seems like sci fi, it's now reality for jean altomari.

"It feels like I'm standing up on my own power," she said.

A Cancun dream vacation turned into a nightmare when a jeep accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Before a motorized exoskeleton, called rewalk, Jean had not taken a step in two years.

"It feels like I am leaning forward. I'm deciding I'm going to stand up. And I just stand up," Jean said.

Patients wear a backpack with a small computer and use a remote control on a wrist device to tell the suit to stand up. The result has Jean moving on her own.

But for some of the 118-thousand people in the u-s who can't use their arms or legs, even moving their wheelchair can be an insurmountable task. A diving accident left Jason DiSanto paralyzed from the shoulders down. Now he's one of the first to test drive new technology that could change his world. It's called tongue drive-an operating system that works through a tiny magnet, piercing the tongue.

By touching different teeth the user sends commands through the headset to be processed by a smart phone.

"So to initiate for example, a right command, they would hit their tooth over here on the right side, so (she demonstrates) you know just a simple tap of the tongue," said Erica Sutton, M.A. Study Coordinator at Shepherd Center.

"It's a big deal for anybody who's bound in a wheelchair because it'll give you more independence," said Jason DiSanto, who is paralyzed from shoulders.

And that's what both of these game changers are all about.

The rewalk is FDA approved for use in rehabilitation centers and is expected to be ready for consumers in 2012. A clinical trail is now underway for patients to test out tongue drive in their homes.