RALEIGH –Whisky Kitchen co-owner Michael Thor has a superhero’s name.
Soon, he’ll have one robotic arm to go with it.
Today, the 37-year-old, who became quadriplegic after a 2015 bike accident and can’t move from the neck down, was fitted for a robotic arm manufactured by the medical robotics company Myomo.
The Massachusetts-based startup says its powered brace, the MyoPro, is currently the only robotics device on the market that can restore mobility for people suffering from neurological disorders or upper-body paralysis.
“It should be a game changer for me,” says Thor. “This is getting me closer and closer to a huge goal of mine — to touch my face, to scratch an itch, to pick my nose. Feed myself.”
Added his wife of four years, Sarah Santoro Thor: “It’s not so much to get back to how it was. Let’s just get independent and find whatever we can do to make his life easier and more autonomous.”
Myomo reps flew in from out of state to make a cast of his arm using fiber glass on Tuesday. They met up at NextStep Raleigh, the paralysis recovery center at 6601 Hillsborough Street that his mother, Karen Thor, opened after his accident.
Already, other clients at the center are lining up to get their own arm. As Myomo’s Director of Business Development Thomas Schratwieser explained, each arm is custom made for the patient.
“We will send to our C-Fab location in Ohio,” explained Myomo’s Director of Business Development Thomas Schratwieser. “They will then produce the arm from the cast that we make, and then we’ll fit him. Hopefully within the next 25-30 days, he’ll have his device and be able to start using it.”
How it works
MyoPro weighs about four pounds and is a wearable device designed to help restore function to arms and hands paralyzed or weakened by conditions such as CVA stroke, brachial plexus injury, cerebral palsy, or other neurological or neuromuscular disease or injury.
MyoPro works by reading the faint nerve signals, also known as EMG signals, from the surface of the skin without the need for implants or surgery, which activates small motors to move the arm and hand as the user intends.
The user wearing the brace is completely controlling their own hand and arm with the brace amplifying their weak muscle signal to help move the limb.
Launched in 2015, around 700 people around the country have received the arm to date.
However, the company wouldn’t reveal the price tag.
“The patient’s out-of-pocket costs will depend on their particular health insurance plan and are usually capped at their annual deductible amount,” Myomo’s CEO Paul Gudonis said.
The day his life changed forever
Thor’s insurance recently approved him for the arm. It’s been four years, almost to the day, that his life as he knew it irrevocably changed.
On Nov. 20, 2015, driving home from work, he turned his 2012 Sanyang motorbike left on North Person Street in downtown Raleigh. A car driven by a 25-year-old woman merged into traffic, hitting Thor and sending him headfirst into a light pole.
His face appeared unscathed, but he had suffered a multitude of injuries: six broken ribs, a shattered right elbow, a collapsed lung and a fractured spine at the C2 level, causing an incomplete spinal injury.
After a few weeks in ICU at WakeMed, he was med-flighted to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, considered one of the country’s top hospitals for spinal cord injuries.
He spent nearly three years there before returning last year to resume his duties as co-owner of Whisky Kitchen, the restaurant he had helped set up shortly before the crash.
These days, he continues with his rehab and works daily at his restaurant from his wheelchair. He’s also active on Instagram, and hasn’t lost his sense of humor. (His handle is @crippledcook.)
“It’s just who I am. I’ve always been a funny, positive guy,” he says. “I can’t let this change me who I am as a person.”