Aiming to change the lives of people with motor movement disabilities: Jacob Gabel, CEO of Walk-Care.A new Israeli device the ReWalk — worn like an exoskeleton and maneuvered with crutches — promises to give mobility to paraplegics. The company developing it, Argo Medical Technologies, has made news that has circled the globe.
Hot on its heels is Walk-Care. Inspired by the late Christopher Reeve’s visit to Israel in 2003, Walk-Care’s two founders, a gemologist and an aeronautics engineer, have paired up to revolutionize the “transportation” market for the disabled.
But really, their primary motive, says CEO Jacob Gabel is to change the lives of people with motor movement disabilities, and to do it at a cost most people can afford. “We spent two years talking to rehabilitation center specialists around Israel asking them for a wish-list — what they would like in such a device for their patients,” Gabel, the engineer, and a retired Israeli Air Force colonel tells ISRAEL21c.
“While devices like Re-Walk’s exoskeleton serves people who are already in good shape, it doesn’t help them in their daily life for eating, sitting, or lying down. Our device gives a 24 hour solution, including walking. We could even take [the unconscious former Prime Minister of Israel] Arik Sharon and go for a walk around the block with him today,” says Gabel, pointing out the importance of walking and exercising severely paralyzed people, such as quadriplegics, and also the unconscious.
Without daily exercise, muscle mass withers away, circulation slows down and a whole set of new complications arise, such as osteoporosis and bedsores, which can lead to infection and death.
Walk with tears of joy
One success story is a woman who recently tried out the Walk-Care prototype, still heavily guarded until funding is secured to take the device from prototype stage to market. The 42-year-old woman hadn’t used her legs for 30 years. “With Walk-Care, she was walking on her own feet again,” says Gabel. There were lots of tears.
One of the big failures of other devices, he points out, is the embarrassment factor. With high rates of failure, it’s far too common for a disabled person, especially the more severe ones, to topple over when using an assisted walking device.
With two years of study, then three to four years of building the Walk-Care prototype with their own hands, the two-person company based in Rosh Ha’ayin is positive that Walk-Care’s solution, which resembles a wheelchair, is the best in the market. The Israel government is behind the company, giving Walk-Care funding from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist.
The company also won an important Israeli national prize. And with funding, it could take them about three months to get FDA approval, says Gabel.
Rehab doctors “go ballistic” over new device
Not ready to release images, Gabel says that top rehabilitation doctors in Israel have tried it out, exclaiming that it’s a dream come true. “They went to the machine and used it on themselves and they went ballistic,” says Gabel.
For the price of a small car — about $15,000 — the Walk-Care device comes highly customizable, meaning it can be operated with buttons, voice commands, or even with a blow straw, depending on the disability. It can even ride over uneven and bumpy surfaces such as grass.
From a sitting position, the device can recline, putting a person in a position to sleep, or extend vertically in a walk position. In this mode, users can either walk on the ground, the device supporting their body as they move their legs, or the more disabled can get a work out by sliding their feet as much as they are able, along a platform, guiding the device like fingers do on a laptop mouse keyboard.
“The user literally walks on his own feet, and this is the whole point,” says Gabel, emphasizing the importance of moving the legs for circulation and health. It’s also essential, he tells ISRAEL21c, that the disabled get the opportunity to interact in this world on the same level as fully mobile people. Both for peace of mind and for building a life others take for granted.