The MedCity INVEST conference, held at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago this week, offers enterprising healthcare startups the opportunity to connect with investors and other potential partners. One such entrepreneur is Robert Lewis, the founder of Freedom to Roam, a medical device company seeking to help people with mobility challenges.
When he was younger, Lewis was diagnosed with Chiari 1 malformation, a condition that arises as the skull and brain are developing, leading to brain tissue extending into the spinal column. He also has syringobulbia, a rare disease involving the spine and brain stem associated with Chiari 1 malformation.
Lewis developed surgical bacterial meningitis in 2005 when he underwent a procedure to remove scar tissue formed from his previous surgery. He said the infection nearly killed him and led to the loss of the use of his hands and arms. He also contends with chronic pain, but relies on aspirin, meditation and medical cannabis patches to manage it.
Referring to himself as an “incomplete quadriplegic”, Lewis said although he cannot use his arms or hands, he does have the ability to walk. As he struggled to come to grips with his predicament, he dreamed about a device that could help him walk. He developed a mobility device that supports his body weight to make walking safer and easier for himself and others called the Independence Stand-Up Walker.
“I was having to really concentrate hard on walking — I wanted to save my legs. I had a dream about how to build a walker from top to bottom that would help me keep my legs in shape.”
Applications for the device span complex neurological conditions, stroke survivors, amputees, and supporting people with obesity. Although the height of the device can be adjusted, Lewis is developing a smaller version of the device for children.
Lewis said the three year-old business based in Iowa has produced 100 units in Illinois, which are in final construction and will soon be available for purchase.
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