CLEVELAND — For patients with Multiple Sclerosis, the gradual loss of mobility and independence can be one of the most difficult parts of dealing with the disease.

What You Need To Know

  • Kathy Miska was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis more than 20 years ago

  • She had to make modifications in her life to maintain her independent lifestyle

  • At the Cleveland Clinic, Miska was introduced to new technology that could potentially regain some of her mobility, a robotic brace, or ExoSkeleton

  • The FDA approved the ExoSkeleton therapy for MS patients in June 2022

“I was a special ed teacher. It was hard because I mean that's a job that really takes a lot out of you and demands a lot of hours," said Kathy Miska, 56, who was diagnosed with MS more than 20 years ago.

Miska eventually had to leave her career in teaching as the disease progressed.

“I would say about six years ago, I started using a rollator to help me walk better," she said. "Before that, I was using a cane for maybe five years."

Miska said she had been very independent and worked full time, when the MS progressed and got worse she had to change certain things to maintain her independent lifestyle. 

Through her physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic, Miska was introduced to new technology that could potentially regain some of her mobility. A robotic brace, or ExoSkeleton, is programmed to each individual patient. Sensor-driven motors lift the legs and help regain a patient's mobility.

"If you repeat a task enough times and under optimal conditions, then the brain may imprint that task. If that's being lost or it's not as good, then maybe we could see it improve so that people could walk better without it," said Francois Bethoux, MD, Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Miska started using the ExoSkeleton as part of her regular physical therapy.

“They asked me if I would be interested in being part of the study," Miska said. "So the study started in the Fall of 2019 and it was eight weeks. You went to the Mellon Center three times a week and the sessions were an hour apiece.”

The device is complementary to regular physical therapy and Miska said, so far, it's made an impact, “in the beginning of the study, they took data on my walk, and then at the very end of the eight weeks, they took additional data and my walk and my speed increased 25%," she said

The FDA approved the ExoSkeleton therapy for MS patients in June 2022.

Bethoux said he hopes this technology provides hope not only for people who have been living with the disease for decades… but also people who are in the early stages of their diagnosis and unsure of what challenges MS will bring.

“Many people who are diagnosed recently express a fear of having difficulty walking in the future, but at this point, we don’t know," Bethoux said. "At least to my knowledge we haven’t identified a very strong predictor that could tell us that when that person is diagnosed, after x-number of years, they will definitely have a lot of difficulty walking. So it’s good for people to know that if MS causes trouble, limitations, difficulty performing activities that there are options, so I would hope that balances out the fear."