‘A step in the right direction’ for Rehab worker

Pádraig Hannafin trying out the bionic exoskeleton suit. He lost the use of his legs after a fall in the garden of his home in Ballyferriter.

It was, in Pádraig Hannafin’s own words, “a step in the right direction’’.

The 31-year-old Rehab employee has walked for the first time since he was injured in an accident that left him paralysed 15 years ago.

He recently took 206 steps while wearing a bionic exoskeleton suit and soon followed up with another session. He was strapped into the suit, which has bars to support the body and battery-powered motors to move the legs.

“It was an emotional experience — strange but familiar at the same time,’’ he said.

When he was just 16, Pádraig fell over the garden wall at his home in Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, landed on his head, broke his neck and suffered serious spinal injuries.

The result was that he lost the use of his legs. He has limited use of his arms, but no use of his hands. However, he went on to study in UCC where he obtained master’s degrees in Irish and Hispanic studies and film studies.

Pádraig has worked with Rehab, in Cork, as a researcher in the communications department for the past six years.

It was while he was in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, in Dun Laoghaire, that he was told about a group in Cork, Helpful Steps, and was given a questionnaire to fill.

Two weeks later, he received an email from Helpful Steps telling him he was a suitable candidate to use an exoskeleton suit.

He gladly availed of the opportunity and had two, half-hour sessions on different days.

But, he stressed, people should not expect to see him walking around in the suit.

“The suit is intended as a form of physiotherapy, not a cure or something to be worn every day. But it is something to help keep the body fit and healthy and ready for any possible cure.’’

He intends to use the suit from time to time and it is also available at Elite Gyms, in Cork, to other people with disabilities.

Pádraig — an Arsenal fan who tries to get to the Emirates Stadium once a year — likes to travel and has taken part in adventure activities such as skydiving and zorbing (rolling downhill inside a plastic orb).

He will be interviewed by Marian O’Flaherty on Radio Kerry’s Caint Chiarrai programme, on Sunday at 8pm.


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