The story of Ricard

We want to share the story of Ricard, a person who suffered a spinal cord injury and managed to get ahead thanks to his effort and optimism.

What is your story?
22 years ago, while I was working as a welder I had a work accident that resulted in several fractures and complications, including a complete spinal cord injury at the level of the dorsal vertebra 10. You think you are invincible until the day it happens to you.

How did your life change?
At that time, I had a relationship and I thought I had many friends, but I realized that because of the accident I almost lost everything. When you have a sudden loss of mobility, the physical difficulty is exhausting, but the emotional and psychological part is devastating. It is quite a process to assimilate that the kind of life you were used to living is over and that another life begins. The support of my brother and two friends was really important to succeed in this process. I was at the Asepeyo clinic and then at the Institut Guttmann and with them I learned that, even if the injury is irreparable, life goes on. After some time, I met my wife, with whom I rearranged my life and had a daughter.

What do you do now?
I have not returned to work since I had the injury, I live with a pension. That’s why I dedicated myself to do what I like: sport. I was the Spanish champion of javelin throw, and I even missed the Olympics because of a car accident (of which I was a victim, I wasn’t driving!). But my biggest passion is basketball, which I dedicated myself to: I played 6 seasons at FC Barcelona and 2 at La Penya. I also enjoy riding a bicycle, and I achieved to do the Camino de Santiago three times with a handbike!

What solutions to improve your mobility have you used?
Of course, wheelchairs. I prefer the rigid ones, which allow me to go up and down some small stairs and get it in the car. I also used passive orthoses (KAFO), which allowed me to stand up, but it was difficult to move. In fact, I had several falls with the KAFO and in the last one, I said I was done with them, as I fissured a vertebra and the coccyx. Since then I use a standing frame with a joystick that allows me to move around the house.

What is the difference between an exoskeleton and these other mobility aids?

Especially on an emotional level, as the exoskeleton allows me to stand by myself, but also to walk again. The main difference is the personal autonomy provided by the exoskeleton that the other devices, which are much more static, can’t provide me.
The ABLE exoskeleton is more comfortable than a KAFO and much easier to put on and take off. In addition, it is very light and intuitive, the machine understands every step you want to take and helps you to take it. It’s not just therapeutic, it gives you hope. I had a sense of autonomy and felt like it was me the one doing the steps. Thanks to it, I hope to be able to go outside on foot in a few years.

Why could exoskeletons improve your quality of life?
With the exoskeleton, I feel personal autonomy and I have much more freedom of movement. Nobody is holding me, so I can stand upright and I can use it anywhere and whenever I want. In addition, it gives me a sense of safety, which I value a lot for the multiple falls I had in the past with my KAFO. So, if I had to pick a device to improve my mobility, that would be the exoskeleton. It is easy to use and light, which allows to move it very easily. It’s like a glove, an extension of my body that allows me to be the one I was before.

Which feature of the exoskeleton could be improved?
Until now the exoskeleton has been able to walk quite naturally and the steps are very easy to take. But for me, what would be like a dream is that I could go up and down some stairs.

Do you think the exoskeleton could have other applications?
Yes, I think it would be very useful for industrial use, for people like me who needed to lift important weights at work.

What advice would you like to share with other people suffering spinal cord injury?
Never give up and always look forward. Think about what you can do and not what you stopped doing, and try to be happy, surrounded by the people you love. Above all, be happy!

“I carry the wheelchair in my ass, not in my head” – Ricard