In June 2013, Nathan Kirwan severed his spinal cord in a fall that resulted in a C4 injury which left him paralysed from the chest down. Following the completion of his rehab, Nathan realised that there was no motivating venue where people with disabilities could participate in exercise programmes. He teamed up with five-time world kickboxing champion Colin O’Shaugnessy of Elite Gym Cork, and founded Helpful Steps, a ‘first-in-the-world’ organization which allows those with paralysis and other mobility issues to use an exoskeleton as an exercise machine in a general gym.
An exoskeleton is a bionic suit used in rehabilitation which allows individuals with any lower limb weakness or paralysis to stand up and walk. The suit is a wearable, battery-operated bionic exoskeleton wrapped over the user’s clothes. With its easy adjustments, transition between patients of different heights and widths takes as little as five minutes, and it enables the user to stand and walk on level surfaces. For effective usage, the user must learn how to balance and weight shift when wearing the device.
The exoskeleton in Cork, also known as Lazarus, is also the only one available to the public in Ireland.
In 2015, Avolon joined the fundraising drive with the Helpful Steps team to purchase Lazarus and secure the long term future of the project. Avolon partnered with Helpful Steps both through sponsorship of the inaugural Helpful Steps ball in October 2015, held at Cork City Hall, and by running the annual Mark Pollock Run in the Dark in aid of Helpful Steps. For the 5th year in a row, over 30 members of team Avolon, from seasoned participants to first-time runners, joined over 15,000 people in the 5K and 10K races. Through these campaigns, Avolon raised €35,000 to bring Lazarus to Ireland permanently.
We are extremely pleased that in December 2015, Nathan confirmed that Lazarus had been fully paid for and further that Helpful Steps will be upgrading to a new exoskeleton model in 2016.
In 2015, Helpful Steps had over 40 wheelchair users from around Ireland, UK and France to use Lazarus – the equivalent of one new person every nine days. Eight users return at least once a week. In its first year, Lazarus has helped its users take over 200,000 steps.
For more information, please visit http://www.helpfulsteps.ie/.