The unique walker

Ahmed Shatil Alam writes about a device that can be the answer to drop foot complications

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Mamunoor Islam, a student of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology, was hurt and frustrated when he saw a young man around his age not able to walk and being restricted to his wheelchair. Mamunoor came across the person when he had gone to visit his temporarily paralysed uncle at Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Savar.

The man in the wheelchair was affected with a physical complication called foot drop, an ailment that haunts hundreds of Bangladeshis forcing them to seek help of crutches and even wheelchairs for movement.

According to WebMD, the US-based renowned medical information related website, inability to lift the front part of the foot is called foot drop. Foot drop, which is also called as ‘drop foot’, is basically a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than a disease itself and this causes the toes to drag along the ground while walking.

‘To avoid dragging the toes, people with foot drop may lift their knee higher than normal. Or they may swing their leg in a wide arc,’ reads the WebMD website.

Foot drop can happen to one foot or both feet at the same time and can hit at any age. It can happen through some reasons like sports injury, child birth, diabetics, stroke, cerebral palsy, Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS), hip or knee replacement surgery, spending long hours sitting cross-legged or squatting, polio etc.

After returning home from the hospital, Mamunoor pondered about how he can help such people affected with foot drop in Bangladesh. ‘I wanted to help such patients,’ he says to New Age Xtra recently while recalling that incident.

Later, along with three of his fellow students from the same university, Mamunoor made an automated ankle foot orthosis device which is currently on trial and was showcased at the ICT EXPO 2017 in Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka.

In Bangladesh, ankle foot orthosis are widely used for the drop foot patient, made by some organisations like CRP. But the device that has been conventionally used in the country for such patients can only help them to stand or control rather than walk around.

While talking to New Age Xtra, Mamunoor, team lead of the CUET team consisting of four members including Humayun Kabir, Rishad Ibn Mobin and Shama e Ishan, shared that walking is a combination of two different phases- stance and swing phase. ‘The conventional device can help the patients during the stance phase. But our automated ankle foot orthosis can also help the patients move their foot for the swing phase and hence allow them to walk,’ he claims.

The automated device, which is already praised by CRP officials for its mechanism, measures the foot pressure and then helps the foot to lift and land according to a patient’s need, says Mamunoor.

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‘By measuring the foot pressure, our device help patients to lift the foot and then it also moves and lands the foot as the patients used to do before being affected with the symptoms,’ he claims.

As the pace of walking varies from person to person, therefore to comply with the patient’s needs, the device needs to attach with the leg so as to work according to the walking pace the patient used to have earlier. The piloting phase of the device is currently running on a foot drop patient in Dhaka and will be available for others once the trials are complete.

The making cost of the prototype is around Tk 20,000, but the young innovators hope they can provide the device to the needy persons at prices as low as Tk 7,000, once actual production is initiated, he says.

In future, the group also wants to make automated knee orthosis for those patients who have been suffering from knee complications.