Crane Accidents

Architect Robert Woo, Paralyzed in Goldman Sachs Construction Mishap, Walks with ‘Exoskeleton’


After a crane accident near Ground Zero, architect Robert Woo was sure he would never use his legs to walk again.

The 43-year-old paraplegic was thrilled to be proved wrong this week as he tried out a new high-tech device called the “exoskeleton.”

“It was phenomenal,” Woo declared Thursday after taking 300 steps at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he’s undergoing rehabilitation.

“I was so excited to be walking on my own two feet, walking naturally.”

The father of three was paralyzed from the hips down when a crane dropped 7 tons of steel onto the trailer where he was working on Goldman Sachs’ new headquarters in 2007.

He’s had to use a wheelchair to get around, or propel himself forward with his arms in braces — until he got to try out what his kids call his “Transformers” suit.

Mount Sinai chose him as one of six patients to test the strap-on exoskeleton, which uses a combination of sensors and motors that physically move the legs.

It’s like a body brace with a backpack and gizmos that resemble shotguns near the knees. A physical therapist operates a remote control that makes the patient step when their body is properly aligned.

“The computer is like your brain driving the muscles, or in this case, the motors,” said Eythor Bender, CEO of Ekso Bionics, which developed the technology.

If the $130,000 device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration next month, Mount Sinai hopes to buy it.

Ekso Bionics expects patients will be able to purchase them by 2013, and Woo is ready to buy.

“This is the first step,” said Woo, who first heard of the device three years ago when it was being discussed as a tool to help soldiers carrying heavy loads in battlefields.

When he learned it was coming to Mount Sinai, he could barely sleep before trying it.

His wife, Vivian, who lives in Toronto with their boys while he’s in rehab, said it was magical to see him comfortably walking again when she visited this week.

“When he stood up, it was a feeling of ‘Wow,'” she said, describing the smile on his face and the confidence in his stride.

Her husband consults with Adamson Associates Architects, but most off his time in spent with family and in physical therapy.

“We all need to enjoy life,” he said.

“You don’t know what is going to happen the next day.”

Category: Report Update


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