Bionic leg: Golfer becomes first to wear 'Bluetooth' brace allowing him to walk, cycle and tackle the stairs

Bionic leg: Golfer becomes first to wear 'Bluetooth' brace allowing him to walk, cycle and tackle the stairs

A man unable to walk unaided since he was a child has become the first person in the UK to be fitted with a Bluetooth-controlled leg brace, which he said would change his life.

John Simpson's nerves were left so damaged by polio that he has been unable to walk without the use of a locked-leg brace since he was 14.

On Wednesday, he became the first person to walk with a C-Brace, a bionic, carbon fibre brace that uses a built-in microprocessor and sensors to allow the knee to control all aspects of the walking cycle.

The brace has been designed to help people who don’t have control of their legs to walk naturally, cycle, walk down stairs and descend slopes at a normal walking speed, things the designers say have never before been possible.

Created using world-leading prosthetic technology, it is said to allow those paralysed through disease and trauma to benefit in the same way as amputees for the first time.

Mr Simpson, from South West London, said: "In all the years I've been wearing callipers, the most innovative development until now was the addition of Velcro, so the C-Brace is a revolution.

"I can walk naturally again, without fear that my leg will give way, leading to a fall. I can walk downstairs with a bent knee and without fear as the brace provides support intuitively.

"It's going to change my life. With the C-Brace I've gone from crutches to two sticks and now only one stick, and I'm still at the early stages of learning."

He said the locked-leg brace he is used to wearing was "awkward, cumbersome" and put a great strain on my his back.

He has tried various new braces, supports and therapies but nothing helped him walk so he stuck with his original steel callipers.

The C-Brace, made by prosthetic and orthotic experts Ottobock, is the only exoskeleton of its kind. It will cost private patients between £40,000 and £60,000.

An Ottobock spokeswoman said: "Other exoskeleton suits are full body or have to be worn on both legs, so this is the first lower limb design. It's a real breakthrough for technology.

"It works by Bluetooth using sensors and the user can pre-programme different modes.

"It is completely self-supporting and can be worn every single day, unlike others that are used only for rehabilitation."

Despite his mobility difficulties, Mr Simpson has played golf to a high standard since his early teens, when he was taught by his father and a friend as part of his rehabilitation.

He had enjoyed a successful career as senior vice president of IMG, managing sportsmen such as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman and Sebastian Coe.

Since visiting the injured military men and women at Headley Court, Mr Simpson established the On Course Foundation, a military charity that supports the recovery of wounded, injured and sick service personnel through golf tuition and jobs in the golf industry.

David Buchanan, Ottobock Academy clinician and UK stance control expert, said: "This is the most exciting development in the orthotic industry in the last decade.

"This is a device designed for people who don't have the full control of their legs or can't bear weight without collapsing.

"It's the first 'swing-phase' control orthosis, which means that the computer and sensors inside the device control the leg in space – just like the advanced prosthetic legs.

"This means that it can help people walk, cycle ... even play a round of golf, naturally and comfortably."

Last September, tetraplegic Irving Caplan, 56, wore a robotic suit to stand up and deliver his "father of the bride" speech.

His Rex Bionics exoskeleton suit was worn on both legs and controlled by a joystick and 29 microprocessors.

By Victoria Ward,

The Telegraph, Wednesday 4 February 2015

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