Robotic therapy helps keep father’s dream alive to walk daughters down the aisle

A father-of-four who was left paralysed after a serious crash is now dreaming of walking his daughters down the aisle after receiving innovative robotic therapy.

Luke Louden suffered a broken neck and back, alongside multiple serious leg injuries, in August 2020, and for more than two years the dairyman was forced to contemplate the end of his life as he knew it.

The 32-year-old, of Whauphill in Dumfries and Galloway, said he “knew instantly” after the crash that he was paralysed, and added: “The doctors didn’t say there was no chance of walking but they said there was a slim chance.”

But that slim chance has now started to become a reality after he became the first patient to receive a new type of therapy at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow.

He said: “Quite quickly I began to feel the benefits, and now there’s less pain, fewer spasms, I sleep better and I have lost weight. It’s also been huge for my mental health.”

It is his wife Anna and his children Anna, eight, Chloe, six, Mary, four, and Isaac, three, who have been his inspiration and support during his recovery.

Patient with physiotherapist
Physiotherapist Claire Lincoln with Luke Louden on the ZeroG Gait and Balance System (Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit/PA)

“They have kept me going – especially my wife,” Mr Louden said. “I don’t know how I would have managed without her. I’ve had some really dark times, but now I can look forward with real hope.

“The dream would obviously be to walk my girls down the aisle, so I’m going to keep going, to keep trying, for Anna and all my children.

“I mean, look what this system has done for me up to now – you never know what further advances are round the corner.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been tough and the future is daunting, but the team here have been amazing, and I know they’ve got my back.”

Before Mr Louden started his therapy on the ZeroG Gait and Balance System, which NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said is the first of its kind in Scotland, he said he “put so much work in and didn’t see any return, and I could feel my hope just draining away”.

He added: “It was really hard at the start, and I didn’t really know what to do. I was really fit and active, so to lose the use of my legs was tough.”

In September last year, he started using the robotic apparatus, which supports him during therapy and automatically synchronises with his movements to help him walk and prevent falls.

“It’s transformed my life and how I feel,” Mr Louden said. “I’ve gone from hardly being able to move to being able to walk 20 metres non-stop on the bars. My record on the ZeroG system is 57 metres.

Patient with physiotherapist
The ZeroG Gait and Balance System is a robotic apparatus where a patient is supported during therapy (Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit/PA)

“I’d love to keep improving but to be honest, if I couldn’t achieve any more I’d be happy the way I am. Just to be able to stand, even if it’s with a frame, is amazing.

“If you’d asked me six weeks ago if I could even achieve that I’d have said don’t be daft. But now I can stand next to my kids.”

Claire Lincoln, senior research physiotherapist at the hospital, said patients using the machine can do a lot more before becoming too tired.

“The system also allows us to be more creative with the activities we undertake, which means the patient gets more enjoyment and satisfaction while also seeing additional benefit,” she said.

“We are still learning the full potential of the system, but because of the support and added safety it gives patients, already it’s allowed us to try therapies earlier than would have been possible before.”

Dr Mariel Purcell, consultant in spinal injuries, said since he started his career 30 years ago more patients now have the potential to get back on their feet.

“We used to see a lot of young males, who had perhaps been in a car crash or suffered an industrial accident, but the advances in safety – seatbelt wearing and health and safety laws – have made a real difference,” he said.

“Now we are seeing damage that isn’t as bad, and we’re seeing older patients who have experienced lower-velocity injuries.

“This gives us a real chance to help these patients, and the ZeroG system will be instrumental in this work.”