New robotics help Alf walk again

Walking again: Alf Limb uses the new robotic gait trainer.
Walking again: Alf Limb uses the new robotic gait trainer.

A Crofton man is learning to walk again thanks to state-of-the-art robotics.

Alf Limb, a 77-year-old former butcher is one of the patients of a new neuro rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Leeds, which is offering fresh hope to people whose lives have been dramatically restricted by disability.

Before the pioneering new facility - the only one of its kind in the UK and run by MOTIONrehab - Alf was only able to manage a few steps across his living room on a zimmer frame, with the support of a physiotherapist and his wife Judith following immediately behind with his wheelchair should he fall over.

But in his two attempts on a robotic gait trainer’ called Lyra at the facility this week, Alf has managed to do the equivalent of well over 100m each time - far outstripping what he has previously been able to achieve.

The machine works by holding feet in place on mobile foot plates to replicate natural walking patterns. The result is that users are able to make up to 40 times as many steps compared to treadmill training or manual walking practice.

“It is amazing really, “ he said. “I wouldn’t be doing much more than 12 steps per week and now I have just done 135 steps on the machine this morning.”

Alf contracted polio as a seven-year-old. “I made quite a good recovery,“ he said. “I walked out of hospital and a lot of the others who were in there with me came out in wheelchairs so I considered myself quite lucky.”

He managed a full working life, first as a butcher and then in a plastics factory, before eventually retiring. However, in 2010 problems began when a knee replacement went badly wrong and resulted in him relying on an uncomfortable caliper.

After five years, he upgraded it for what should have been a superior carbon fibre version. But the way in which it altered the way he walked - combined with post-polio syndrome gradually weakening his muscles - resulted in his back collapsing 12 months ago and Alf being confined to a wheelchair.

“It was terrible. I had always tried to keep myself quite active so it was devastating. I couldn’t do anything at all. It was very stressful for my wife and daughter,“ he said.

Alf says the new facility will make a considerable difference to the lives of him and his family.

“With post-polio syndrome I know I’m not going to get a lot better. But this therapy can hopefully keep it at a level and stop it getting worse too quickly.”