Two sides to the story: Part 1 – Back on my feet

“When Ton Arts comes out of anaesthesia after surgery, he can only move his head. The rest of his body seems unresponsive. “I was panicking, of course”, says Arts, “but it was also a calculated risk. I had a double hernia and frequent failure symptoms, and the pain was getting worse. Before the oper- ation, the doctors at the St. Maartenskliniek in Nijmegen told me that there was a significant risk of suffering a spinal cord injury. But I had no choice. Without the surgery, I could have ended up with a complete spinal cord injury over time.”

Why are you building a telescope in Namibia?
“It was September 2014 when Arts, then 57, underwent the operation. After, it looked as if he would never be able to stand or walk again. “I had no control over my arms, I couldn’t move anything. My bowels and bladder were failing; everything was coming out. It was to do with the location of the spinal cord injury. I have a high spinal cord injury, level C4, in my neck. Everything in my body below that point is affected: the spinal cord is partially damaged, so the communication between my brain and my body is not optimal.”

Testing the MyoSuit
For five months, Arts had to undergo rehabilitation treatment at the St. Maartenskliniek. He then had to undergo another four months of outpatient rehabilitation. Thanks to the re- habilitation and his perseverance, Arts is now slowly improving. “At one point, I regained feeling in my big toe. It felt like a small victory. I regained some strength and bladder and bowel control. Eventually, some of the sensation in my body and some control came back.” With some effort, Arts can now stand up again and walk a little bit. At home, he mainly uses the walker. Outside, with the help of crutches, he can walk a maximum of a hundred and fifty metres. Despite his limitations, he is not sitting idle.

He took part in a sailing camp, organised by the St. Maartenskliniek and the Handbike Battle in Austria. After seeing him in an educational video, rehabilitation specialist Ilse van Nes contacted him and asked if he’d like to test the MyoSuite: a soft exoskeleton, that helps people with incomplete spinal cord injuries to stand and walk again.

Further Improvement
“Of course”, says Arts, “I accept every challenge!” In early 2023, under the supervision of a physiotherapist at the St. Maartenskliniek, he started training twice a week, to get used to the robotic suit. On 21 March, he took it home for six weeks, and the real testing began. “The suit actively supports my walking movements, which is very nice. When I walk with crutches, I lean forward slightly. The suit pulls me up- right, allowing me to roughly double my walking distance. I particularly benefit from this when I am outdoors. At home, it’s easier to use the walker. Because of my limited motor skills, putting on the suit with its Velcro fasteners is very difficult, and I need my wife ́s help. To control the suit, you have to carry a six-pound battery on your back, which makes it uncomfortable to get into the car or sit in a chair.”

Testing the suit in practice provides a lot of valuable information. “When I cook, I hold on to the countertop and slide from side to side. This is hardly possible when wearing the suit, as it mainly supports forward movement, and not sideways sliding.”

“On the positive side, the display is very easy to use, and you can adjust many functions to suit your personal situation.” Arts hopes that his experiences and suggestions will be used to further improve the suit. “I can only applaud the development of innovative techniques to support people with spinal cord injuries!”