Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Reprint from Aspen Daily

Amanda Boxtel walks for first time in 18 years

by Dorothy M. Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Walking a few feet across a stage in California is hardly newsworthy for most people, but for Amanda Boxtel it is enough to push her into the realms of celebrity status, receiving national and international coverage from news outlets including CNN, Yahoo! News and CBS.

Basalt resident Boxtel became paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident at Snowmass Ski Area 18 years ago. Since her accident, she has undergone six stem-cell treatments in India; co-founded Challenge Aspen, a Snowmass-based nonprofit that provides recreational opportunities for people with disabilities, and helped establish adaptive skiing programs in Chile, Argentina and Iceland.

In the past few months, Boxtel has been a “test pilot” for a new technology called eLEGS — which is the acronym for Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System — an artificially intelligent bionic device that can assist paraplegics to walk. It was invented by engineers at Berkeley Bionics. The exoskeleton can fit people between 5’2” and 6’4”, weighing 220 pounds or less, and provides knee flexion to mimic the natural human gait.

Berkeley Bionics has used Boxtel in its demonstrations, allowing her to clock over 12 hours in the machine and garnering attention from the media.

“It’s blown up,” Boxtel said. “But with all of this press, I see that the interest is global and real. The people at Berkeley Bionics were expecting it to snowball, but it exceeded their expectations. This media attention has affirmed that people with chronic spinal injuries are crying out for a mobility option.”

Saying that her disability has held her back from embracing life and the array of activities Aspen offers would be naive. She has carried the Olympic torch on her mono-ski, was the Colorado Ski Country USA Adaptive Athlete of the Year and orchestrated the first disability whitewater rafting trip in the Grand Canyon.

 John Fogelin/Special to the Daily News
Paraplegic Amanda Boxtel uses eLEGS to walk in Berkeley, Calif., last month.

“We live in a standing-up world,” Boxtel said. “But I figured it out. I’ve been able to do a lot. And until now, nothing has been invented to allow paraplegics to get up and walk. And that’s a bold statement because I’ve recreated -— -I ski and kayak and paraglide, and I’ve been up to the Maroon Bells and down. Amputees are winning the able-body running Olympics. The technology is there.”

Since Boxtel has become involved with Berkeley Bionics, her new goal is to bring eLEGS to the Aspen Club as a rehabilitation tool.

“I’m hoping that Aspen will become the first place to offer eLEGS to the public and when you think about it, the Aspen Club is the perfect place for it,” she said. “In order to use eLEGS, you need supervision by doctors and physical therapists, which the Aspen Club can provide.

“Instead of going to work [out] at the gym [paraplegics] can go to walk.”

According to Boxtel, eLEGS could be available to be sold commercially as soon as June or July, costing between $90,000 and $100,000. She predicts that the cost could eventually drop to $35,000, making it an affordable personal device, particularly if it can be covered by insurance.

Michael Fox, CEO of the Aspen Club, said he is excited for the prospective acquisition.

“We’re excited for Amanda and we’re excited for eLEGS,” he said. “We think it’s a very cool technology and we’re talking to Amanda about what it would take to get eLEGS at the club. Given that the Aspen Club is the premier venue in sports medicine in the Western Slope it would make sense, and if it works, we would love to have one here.”

The Aspen Club sponsors paralympic athletes, attracting them to the facility with their sports medicine program and innovative machines, such as their anti-gravity treadmill.

In the meantime, Boxtel will be traveling between Aspen and Berkeley to continue her role as a test pilot.

“With eLEGS we’re really on the forefront,” she said. “It’s real, truly cutting edge technology that can propel us forward to live a full life in full tallness.”


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