Medical Moment: The TetraSki

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 5:39 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Each year, almost 18,000 people across the U.S. suffer a life-changing spinal cord injury.

A quarter of a million people live every day confined to a wheelchair. The loss of freedom can be detrimental to a person’s physical and emotional well-being.

Now, researchers are working on innovative ways to help their patients enjoy things they thought they would never do again.

Rebecca Farewell loves the freedom of falling from 10,000 feet.

“I was a skydiving instructor for almost 12 years,” Farewell said. “I have over 7,000 jumps.”

But her last jump went terribly wrong.

“I hit a pocket of nasty air on my parachute. I slid across the ground for about 100 feet plus,” Farewell continued.

Leaving Rebecca a quadriplegic.

“A lot of people that have a catastrophic injury or illness, a lot of times they’re quite worried about distraught about the things that they’re not going to be able to do,” said Jeff Rosenbluth, MD, at the University of Utah.

That’s why Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth and the University of Utah Rehabilitation Research and Development Team built the TetraSki.

“We designed this ski to be able to be skied independently by someone with a very complex disability, with very little or no hand function, and evening some cases, just breath control,” Dr. Rosenbluth explained.

“There’s a little straw on an antenna and they fit it to your mouth so it doesn’t flop everywhere,” Farewell said. “And you give a little puff on it; you turn right, little sip on it, you turn left.”

Electric actuators on the TetraSki provide independent turning and speed variability, using smart technology to give the skier complete control.

“Every time you can bring a piece of independence, you know, back to someone to restore something that was lost, it’s a big deal,” Dr. Rosenbluth finished.

The team has also created a sailboat, fishing rod, cross-country ski, and off-road wheelchair in hopes that more people will have the ability to experience the independence they once had.

“I was shocked at how fast it was. It was the most freeing experience of my life since my accident,” Farewell finished.

Right now, the TetraSki is available through adaptive ski programs around the world, with instructors who have been through a training program. But the hope is that its popularity will continue to grow and TetraSki racing will become a part of the Paralympic Games.