DCU's Exoskeleton Programme - Hugh's Story

Hugh Smith lives in Dublin with his wife and three children. He used to enjoy a thrill-seeking lifestyle, which unfortunately resulted in a serious spinal cord injury. Hugh explains what DCU’s Exoskeleton Programme means to him.

“One of my favourite pastimes used to be motorcycle and sidecar racing. I was a sidecar racing passenger to my friend and racing partner, Philip, and we competed in racing competitions throughout Ireland. The adrenaline rush that competing gives you is unrivaled, and I loved sharing that experience with my close friend.

In April 2019, while myself and Philip were competing in the final heat of a racing competition in Mondello Park, there was an incident which resulted in us colliding into a barrier. I suffered a spinal cord injury in the accident and I’m now paralysed from the waist down.

I spent three months going back and forth between the Mater University Hospital and Tallaght Hospital until I began my rehab in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. It was here that my doctor recommended DCU’s Exoskeleton Programme to me.

Although I’ve only had six sessions walking in the exoskeleton suit, I can already notice the difference. Before beginning the programme, I didn’t have any sensation in either of my legs. Now, I can flicker both my quad muscles due to my muscle memory improving.

I suffer a lot with muscle spasticity in my legs due to my injury, but this always stops the day after a walking session in the exoskeleton suit. My day-to-day functions have also improved hugely, and I know they will only improve further with more sessions in the suit, as any opportunity to stand upright is really beneficial.

“My life completely changed after the accident. When you lose the ability to move your legs, everything becomes a challenge. How will I get dressed? How will I get down the stairs? How will I make my breakfast?”

 

However, DCU’s Exoskeleton Programme has given me a new lease of life. I’m a very competitive person, so when I see my number of steps increasing week on week, I’m always eager to get back into the suit to try and beat my previous best.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to walk regularly in the exoskeleton suit, as I know I am one of few who currently avail of this service. My wish is for my friend and racing partner, Philip, who suffered similar injuries to me in the collision, to get the opportunity to access the exoskeleton suit so that we can travel this road to recovery together.”