Cork gym fundraising for new exoskeleton suit

Colin O'Shaughnessy, of Elite Fitness at Marina Commercial Park, with the exoskeleton suit as Cathal O'Neill does some rehab work. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A Cork gym is to start fundraising to buy a new exoskeleton suit to help people with disabilities to build muscle and improve their quality of life.

Elite Fitness Cork, based in the Marina Commercial Park, is currently using a €150,000 exoskeleton suit to help wheelchair users to walk in order to aid their movement and general health.

The state-of-the-art technology helps people regain strength and build muscle. It is one of several pieces of adapted equipment at the gym which aims to 'make everyone and anyone stronger' to give more independence and a better quality of life.

The gym was one of the first non-medical centres in the world to buy the technology but the suit is coming to the end of its five-year lifespan. Owner Colin O'Shaughnessy hopes to start a fundraising campaign to replace it shortly.

He said that it has life-changing capabilities for those who use it.

"It allows people with spinal injuries to walk. It wraps around you like a cocoon," he said, speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke.

"This is one of the few places in the week where [users] feel normal," he said.

"Nobody gets special attention. There's a respect. They just work like everybody else."

Among the users of the exoskeleton is Nathan Kirwan, the Currabinny-native who fell from a tree and suffered a serious spinal injury. Now 29, Nathan works out up to five times per week in an effort to "get as strong and as fit" as possible to regain some independence.

Using the exoskeleton, he is able to walk and build strength in areas that would have otherwise been impossible to develop.

"[The suit] gives me the ability to stand up and move in a walking motion," he said.

"Originally, I wouldn't have had the strength to push my own chair so coming here has given me the freedom, that independence to get out and to move around much more than I could when I first came out of hospital."

Another regular at Elite Fitness is Jack O'Driscoll, the Mayfield native who suffered a life-changing spinal injury during Storm Emma. Jack, now 20, was left paralysed from the chest down.

He said that the transformation he has seen since using the gym has been "unbelievable".

"Week by week, you see gradual improvements," Jack said.

"I was talking to one of my friends about this: if you have had a bad day, the gym is something that I always did. I don't have much of a way to express my anger. I leave everything here in the evening, I give it my best and after I finish, I feel a lot better."

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