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Front page -> User stories -> Dmitri - Step by step towards the future - a former professional athlete trains stair climbing after his fatal spinal cord injury

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Step by step towards the future - a former professional athlete trains stair climbing after his fatal spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injured patient training with the AssiStep stair climbing aid
Dmitri Tschatschin during rehabilitation from his spinal cord injury
Estimated reading time 9 min. Published 22.08.2018
“The paraplegia though, that something so blatant would happen, you don’t expect that. But alright, that's another life's work and what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger."

View the video from Dmitri's rehabilitation process with the AssiStep:

For as long as he can remember, the 31-year-old former professional ice speedway racer Dmitri Tschatschin rode bikes and eventually turned his passion into a career. Between 2004 and 2011, he pursued motorsport professionally and was part of the national team.

On top of that he was a professional racer in ice speedway - a winter sport that most likely originated in Russia. Similar to Dmitri, who was born in Moscow and came to Germany at the age of three.

Pictures from Dmitri's professional career as a motorcross-driver
Pictures from Dmitri's professional career as a motorcross-driver

Dmitri is a three time German runner-up and bronze medalist of the World Cup in 2007 and was living his passion. He is grateful to have experienced and seen a lot thanks to his career in motor racing. However, about two years ago, on August 26th in 2016 - during a motocross training run - the accident, which changed his life from the ground up, happened.

The accident occured during a harmless jump over a so-called table. This time Dmitri jumps too far, loses his grip on the foot rests during the landing, speeds over a steep wall and lands on his back. Where and when exactly the paraplegia happened - Dmitri doesn’t remember. In the accident, he shatters his knee, breaks his 12th thoracic vertebra and suffers a spinal cord compression, a contusion of the spinal cord, which leads to an incomplete paraplegia.

Since the accident Dmitri has been in a wheelchair. "When I was in the hospital, I said I'd be up and running in three months. And then I am going to ride motorcycles again. That was my first statement. But now it just takes a bit longer," says the 31-year-old. He continues:

  • "I had torn ligaments, collarbone fractures and so forth. But these are little things. After the fractured collarbone I went and had surgery and two weeks later I participated in the German championship. The paraplegia though, that something so blatant would happen, you don’t expect that. But alright, that's another life's work and what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger."

An incomplete paraplegia is when the spinal cord is only partially severed. In that case part of the nervous conduction remains. Depending on the level of the lesion and the extent of the severance, residual functions may remain in sensory perception or in movement. For this reason, it is possible that those with incomplete paraplegia may continue to use their legs to move, albeit with the help of walking aids such as rollators, walking canes, or crutches.

Right after the accident Dmitri was hospitalized for two weeks. Afterwards he went to Murnau for his early rehabilitation which was followed by two months of inpatient rehabilitation in a clinic in Passau. This was where he was put on his feet for the first time since the accident. Despite those first attempts at climbing stairs, walking or climbing stairs was still unimaginable at that point.

After his first progress in this rehabilitation center, he began a semi-residential rehabilitation for the duration of 14 months, where he received one hour of physiotherapy and massage a day as well as equipment training and electrical stimulation. This was a good preparation for the stay in the center of rehabilitation Geerlofs in Pforzheim.

Since April 2018, Dmitri has been a patient at the center of rehabilitation Geerlofs in Pforzheim, where he receives six hours of therapy daily. He reports "In the seven weeks that I have been here, we have achieved so much which would have been difficult elsewhere because you just don’t receive this kind of intensive therapy - the six hours of therapy a day, they advance you extremely. Everything before that is no comparison to what we do here."

Overall, Dmitri spends 14 weeks in the center of rehabilitation Geerlofs. Here at the rehabilitation center we practice not only walking on an even surface, but also climbing the stairs. Since summer 2017, the center of rehabilitation Geerlofs has the stair climbing aid ASSISTEP in the stairwell installed in order to work together with patients, therapists and the ASSISTEP to train climbing the stairs safely and with good support.

"To be honest, I was really surprised how much more functionality can be obtained from the legs when using the ASSISTEP. The first impression was actually "cool". I like it, it works great, it makes it a lot easier to go up and down the stairs, it gives you a certain amount of safety and that was positive - very positive.”
Dimitri Tschatschin (31)
Spinal cord injured patient training with the AssiStep stair climbing aid
Dmitri Tschatschin during rehabilitation from his spinal cord injury

The stair climbing aid is similar to a rollator but for stairs, where the patient can hold on to the handle and therefore can concentrate on climbing the stairs in a safe and supported manner. Dmitri explains his first impression of the ASSISTEP as follows

  • "It works great, it makes it a lot easier to go up and down the stairs, it gives you a certain amount of safety and that was positive - very positive. It's hard to trust in something you do not know yet, if you can not properly control your legs 100%. But after the third step, I knew where to hold on to, how to properly use it, and then I was confident. You have to try it out a bit and get familiar with it and then you can do it. It's a lot easier than with the normal handrails. Definitely - you get confident in the ASSISTEP quite quickly."
“ASSISTEP's big advantage is that you have to do a lot by yourself for therapeutic purposes and that's what's important."
Dimitri Tschatschin (31)
Foot movement during stair training
Screenshots from the video displaying Dmitri's rehabilitation to get back on his feet
Screenshots from the video displaying Dmitri's rehabilitation to get back on his feet

Training climbing the stairs without the ASSISTEP your full strength and exertion lies in the arms, which you use to hold on the left and right handrails. Dmitri says:

  • "You do not realize that at first, but only when you actually train with such a device and actually see that there's still strength coming from somewhere else." If you're in a wheelchair over a longer period, it's a stupid habit to do everything with your arms. You shouldn’t actually do that. ASSISTEP's big advantage is that you have to do a lot by yourself for therapeutic purposes and that's what's important."

About the concept of the rehabilitation center Geerlofs Dmitri says

  • "This is unique - such a concept does not exist anywhere else in Germany. I have inquired a lot and have collected a lot of information about different centers. Nobody does that." Dmitri's goal after the 14 weeks of therapy at the center is to take a few steps independently with only the support of a rollator.

Despite his stroke of fate, Dmitri tells us that his everyday life has not changed much and that he still does the things he likes and enjoys - as far as it is possible. He needs a bit longer for everything and when he’s confronted with stairs somewhere, he needs help. Even if he does not actively pursues motorsport, his life still consists of motorsport. Dmitri works as a chief of competition at speedway events and his goal is to become team manager of the national team. Once motorsport, always motorsport!

  • "Sitting in the wheelchair and just staring at the wall and crying wasn’t the goal from the start," he points out.

Another goal is to be able to walk again, even with mobility aids.

  • "It doesn’t have to be 10 km, or 3 km. It is perfectly fine if it’s only 100 m in the beginning. The important thing is that it works and that it works independently from any support by somebody. The first few steps are not so far in the future. But we still need time, a lot of strength, a lot of sweat, a lot of ambition, a lot of patience and motivation, which is definitely already there."
“When you're ready, you can climb the stairs without anyone having to be there to support and without having to pay attention. It works. A very big advantage is the matter of the head - that you just have the confidence in it.”
Dimitri Tschatschin (31)
The advantages from having the AssiStep as a home installation is described by Dmitri as follows:
  • "As an installation at home - the safety, of course. When you're ready, you can climb the stairs without anyone having to be there to support and without having to pay attention. It works. A very big advantage is the matter of the head - that you just have the confidence in it. You have to touch it once. You have to have used it once and then you actually have confidence in the ASSISTEP. Being a paraplegic, if you have a bit of function in the leg, the fact that you can climb the stairs with it is actually the biggest benefit that you can have in this situation."

About the ASSISTEP being used as a therapy device Dmitri discloses

  • "It is the situation with the hands on the handrails.
    • Number 1: Where do you have 2 handrails on the left and right which you can both reach? That's the first issue.
    • Number 2: When you put your hands on the handrails you do a lot of work through the arms and won’t put any weight on your legs.
  • This means that if you go down the stairs, you can easily slip off. And with the ASSISTEP that does not happen because your full weight lies on the legs. This is a big advantage of ASSISTEP. It's really just an assistant that does not just passivate you like a stairlift, where you just sit, press the button and go up and down, but you actually have to do something. You can hold on to the ASSISTEP for balance. If you fall backwards, you can hold on to it tightly. You have to do a lot yourself and that's a big advantage for me. If you can move your legs but have difficulty balancing, then that's ideal."

Dmitri himself would use the ASSISTEP privately as well, because his journey to walk without any aids is still quite far away and he would like to continue training climbing the stairs.

For his future, Dmitri wishes for health and that he achieves his goal to be able to walk a few steps independently.

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