A physical therapy device based on NASA-developed technology is being used by Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, to rehabilitate military patients — including soldiers returning from Iraq — who have spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries. The Secure Ambulation Module (S.A.M.) is a product of Enduro Medical Technology of East Hartford, CT.
S.A.M.’s NASA roots — profiled in a NASA Tech Briefs “Mission Accomplished” article back in July of 2003 — consist of a cable-compliant mechanism that originally was developed for sounding rocket assemblies and robotics at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The technology was developed into a walker that supported the pelvis and provided stability that mimicked the movement of the hip joint. Enduro licensed the technology, added a joint mechanism, and created S.A.M.
At Walter Reed, S.A.M. is being used to help patients with a variety of traumatic injuries to the spinal cord and brain. According to Enduro’s President, Ken Messier, S.A.M. was donated to the hospital “because it makes the rehabilitation process less taxing on both the patient and the medical staff.” Since S.A.M. allows patients to stand or walk regardless of strength or balance, “it allows them to be up in a standing position without having three or four therapists to help them stand,” Messier explained. As a result, patients are up sooner in the rehab process without the fear of falling.
One military patient at Walter Reed who was wheelchair-bound for two years due to a thoracic spinal cord injury is now up and walking with S.A.M. “When we first put him in the walker, he was up and going for 25 minutes,” said Messier. “He’s now walking for up to 25 minutes every day, and is even using S.A.M. to perform exercises to strengthen his leg muscles.”