Andrew Merryweather: The man and the exoskeleton

Just 8 years ago, 24 year-old Andrew Merryweather was engaged to be married, with a good job as a restaurant manager – his future looked great Internet Explorer json. But Andrew’s life literally changed overnight when he stopped late one evening at a petrol station and was severely assaulted in a horrific random attack.

Andrew says: “I landed up in this chair after a night out with my brother. I woke up paralysed, without medical aid or disability insurance – my whole life changed in a second.”

The physical and financial cost of rehabilitation
With no financial cover, Andrew’s family had to start a Rehabilitation Fund to pay for the therapy he needed. He endured months of rehabilitation to learn how to adapt to his new physical limitations, and is constantly searching for new ways to improve his life.

New skills
Physical rehabilitation therapy for people with spinal cord injuries teaches patients how to work with a wheelchair, and how to use other parts of their body to compensate for limbs they can’t use or feel. Andrew is paralysed in his legs, so supported-walking therapy helps to stop his leg muscles from atrophying and strengthens his core muscles.

Surprising rehab pay-off
The feeling of being upright once again during his rehab pushed Andrew to investigate how modern technology could help him walk outside of the therapy room. One of the breakthroughs in technology that Andrew investigated was the exoskeleton suit.

The sci-fi-looking exoskeleton has battery-powered legs that provide the walking power Andrew’s own legs no longer have. The suit consists of a light wearable brace support, with motors powering knee and hip movement, all monitored by a range of sensors controlled by a computer. Built-in algorithms analyse body movements, and can trigger and maintain gait patterns for up to eight hours.

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Improved health and quality of life
People bound to wheelchairs suffer health problems like bone atrophy, poor circulation and social isolation. The exoskeleton promises better overall health and a new lease on life for people like Andrew. Earlier this year, he travelled to the UK where he underwent training at Cyclone Mobility, and he used the exoskeleton to take part in the Cape Times Big Walk last November.

Andrew has gone back to work and continues to motivate others with his message of perseverance and courage – he is determined to live his life to the fullest.

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