Pedro Toala, who suffered a spinal-cord injury 5 years ago, is beginning to walk again using the Lokomat, from Hocoma Inc, Rockland, Mass. The 47-year-old is walking 50 feet at a stretch, with the aluminum-frame walker, and a spotter.
In 2006, Toala had just finished his shift as a bus driver in Wilmington, Del, when he stopped to use a portable toilet. As a prank, local kids tipped the portable toilet over, and Toala’s back broke during the fall.
After he was stabilized, he had multiple surgeries and months of therapy. Volunteers responded to The Planning Factory’s "Pedro Project," providing renovations to Toala’s home to accommodate his wheelchair.
While his ability to get around — by wheelchair and a retrofitted van — improved, his physical capacity had reached a plateau.
Last year, in Ecuador, Luis Geffner, MD, extracted stem cells from the lumbar region of Toala’s back, and injected them again at the C7-T1 vertebrae.
Toala then joined the Magee Rehabilitation Center, Philadelphia, where he used the Lokomat. He was strapped into a harness and — with the machine bearing most of his weight — moved over a motorized treadmill. With intense exertion, he could stand for a few seconds, gripping the walker for support.
Toala was promoted to Magee’s Thera-Stride, a manual treadmill-like machine that requires more physical effort and demands greater muscle control. He makes the hourlong commute twice a week, and on days that he doesn’t have therapy, he walks during work breaks with the help of a co-worker.