Pete Letkeman broke his neck in 2017.
The injury pinched his spinal cord and
disrupted signals between his brain and
his body below his shoulders. He could
move but he had no control over how
Then he was referred to the
exoskeleton program at Edmonton’s
Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.
The exoskeleton, also known as the
Ekso, helps people with nerve damage
learn to walk again. It has motors and
sensors at the hips and knees. The
user’s feet rest on plates. If the user
does not move their feet properly or
transfer weight properly from one
foot to the other, the Ekso won’t let
For Letkeman’s first session in
February 2018, physiotherapist Karen
Benterud programmed the Ekso for
maximum assistance. Letkeman felt like
he might tip over. “My brain thought,
‘I’m leaning so far to my right that I’m
going to fall,’ ” he says.
However, neither his wife, Tana
Letkeman, nor Benterud were worried.
“He was only tilting maybe three
degrees to the right,” Tana says.
A half hour into the 45-minute session,
Letkeman, 51, began to get the hang of
things. The second session went even
Soon he looked forward to being
strapped into the Ekso. “I could start to
tell this was a good thing,” he says. “I
was starting to walk and it was more of
a normal stride. Before the Ekso, I could
walk, but it was pretty pathetic.”
Letkeman lives in Devon, 26 km
southwest of Edmonton.
He is one of 126 Albertans who
have benefited from the Ekso, which
the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital
Foundation bought for $100,000 four
years ago. Similar exoskeletons are used
by other rehabilitation centres around
“It’s a way for people with a
neurological condition to achieve their
therapy goals in a safe and supportive
way,” says Kerry Bayless, team lead for
physiotherapy for spinal cord injury.
Typically, an Ekso patient has at least
10 sessions lasting from an hour to 90
minutes. Patients also have other forms
of therapy, so Bayless is reluctant to give
all the credit to the Ekso, but it’s clear it
makes a significant difference.
It did for Letkeman. His right leg
and hip grew stronger. His gait and
endurance improved, and he began to
trust his balance. “I can take a lot more
steps with the exoskeleton than I would
without it,” Letkeman says. “I’d be
much, much farther behind without
Treatment a step up for people
with spinal cord damage
WRITTEN BY DEBBY WALDMAN