Paralympic Sheffield star takes first steps

Ekso skeleton. Paralympic gold medalist Matthew Skelhorn tries out the Ekso skeleton at the NGH Spinal Injuries Unit with  Barry Richards (left)and Manuel Landeira (right)
Ekso skeleton. Paralympic gold medalist Matthew Skelhorn tries out the Ekso skeleton at the NGH Spinal Injuries Unit with Barry Richards (left)and Manuel Landeira (right)

A DISABLED athlete took his first steps in seven years using a revolutionary bionic suit at Sheffield’s spinal injuries unit.

Paralympic shooting gold medallist Matt Skelhon had not walked since losing the use of his legs in a car crash in 2005.

But the 27-year-old, who has been treated at the Northern General Hospital’s specialist unit since his accident, was one of the first to try out a new Ekso skeleton - a £100,000 machine which allows paralysed people to walk.

Hospital managers are trying to raise funds to buy one of the machines for the unit.

The Ekso skeleton, which detects small movements in the upper body and sends them to motorised joints in the legs, goes on commercial sale for the first time next year.

Matt, who is busy training for the London Paralympics, said: “I was excited to try the machine, but at the same time found it quite daunting.

“Once I was up, I found it very easy and it felt very natural. I had to rein myself back in, it was far too tempting to go faster and faster.”

“It felt strange at first, but it is definitely a natural feeling, my legs feel more relaxed.

“I had got used to my wheelchair, but now I have tried this, I want one. It would be amazing if the unit gets one.

“They do some great work here and this would make it even better. I reckon in the near future, everyone will be able to have a personal version.”

Matt, who is based in Peterborough, was transferred soon after his accident to Sheffield, which has the second-largest spinal injuries unit in the country.

Always keen on sport, he decided to take his interest further after the accident. After trying various disciplines, including wheelchair basketball, he focused on shooting, and after only 18 months of training won a gold medal in the Beijing Paralympics four years ago.

The development of the Ekso skeleton machine was originally funded by the American military interested in giving soldiers superhuman strength.

But developers realised the machine had the potential to help people with spinal injuries.

To support the appeal call 0114 2711351 or visit www.justgiving.com/ekso