Brazil 2014

Meet The World Cup's Exoskeleton Miracle Athlete

Juliano Alves Pinto hadn't walked since a 2006 car accident. Then, just a few days ago, the world watched as he wore a mind-controlled exoskeleton to make the opening kick of the World Cup in Brazil.

Juliano Alves Pinto during the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony.
Juliano Alves Pinto during the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony.
Ramon Barbosa Franco

SAO PAULO — Before standing in front of the entire world to make the first kick of the FIFA World Cup at last week's televised opening ceremony, 29-year-old Juliano Alves Pinto had not walked since Dec. 3, 2006.

That evening, the car in which he was riding home from a party overturned just a few kilometers away from its destination. Pinto lost his older brother and the use of his legs in the accident.

In an interview with Folha de São Paulo, Pinto, who is now a wheelchair-racing athlete, talks about the mind-controlled robotic suit that allowed him to stand up and walk for the first time in more than seven years.

FOLHA: How did you come to take part in the World Cup’s opening ceremony?
JULIANO ALVES PINTO: Although I live in a small town called Gália, 400 kilometers from São Paulo, I’ve been a patient at the Association for the Assistance to Children with Deficiencies for seven and a half years, since my accident. In January, I got an invitation to take part in a selection. They were looking for somebody my size, my weight and with my disability. In total, 10 candidates took part in the process, but in the end they chose me. And only then did they tell me that it was in fact to make the first kick of the competition, wearing the exoskeleton developed by the Walk Again Project.

Did the exoskeleton really make you feel like you were walking again?
In the Itaquerão stadium, two of my dreams came true: to see the World Cup kickoff and to walk again. When I was a child, I used to play soccer a lot, and I always dreamed of attending a World Cup game. The exoskeleton receives information from the brain and transforms it into movements. This was the first prototype, which means that the World Cup opening ceremony wasn’t the end of the exoskeleton, but only the beginning. There is more to do, but the symbolic kickoff marked the opening of a new era in science.

What thoughts were going through your head at that time?
In that moment, I really had the sensation I was walking again. What I was feeling was beyond words. I was proud to represent millions of people who suffer like me and who are paralyzed. Walking is easy for most. It’s a natural thing. But for somebody who lost all ability to move his legs more than seven years ago, that moment really was special.

Several people have criticized neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis (the leader of the Walk Again Project). What do you think of those critics?
I think they are laypersons as far as the project is concerned. It’s one thing to criticize the project from the inside, but it’s another to do it when you’re an outsider. The project was born to open up new possibilities, to give back the ability of leg movement to people who are now in a wheelchair.

Would you change your wheelchair for the exoskeleton?
The exoskeleton I used was only a prototype. New, improved versions will come. But in the future, yes, I think I would switch to an exoskeleton. The equipment isn’t uncomfortable. You don’t feel any electric shock.

You’re a para-athlete. Do you think you’ll be at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
I’m a wheelchair racer. I train every week. But I still don’t have a sponsor. The equipment is expensive, and the subsidy I get every month is unfortunately not enough to cover all the expenses.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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