Veterans with spinal cord injuries are getting a new lease in life as the Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed provide robotic legs will enable paralyzed vets to walk again.
The device is called the ReWalk, a $77,000 powered exoskeleton approved by the U.S. FDA for home use back in 2014. Since then, veterans have petitioned the VA to shoulder the prohibitive price, and they have responded favorably with VA officials telling The Associated Press that it is outlining plans to enable staff to provide the ReWalk.
Dr. Ann Spungen, VA research lead on the ReWalk system says that "the research support and effort to provide eligible veterans with paralysis an exoskeleton for home use is a historic move on the part of the VA because it represents a paradigm shift in the approach to rehabilitation for persons with paralysis.”
The ReWalk consists of leg braces equipped with motion sensors and motorized joints that will allow individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) to “stand upright, walk, turn, and climb and descend stairs” by responding to shifts in balance and subtle changes in upper-body movement.
However, there are limitations.
The ReWalk system only works for those who meet specific height and weight requirements. Still, last December, a representative from ReWalk told NPR that 45 paralyzed veterans met the criteria and had begun enrolling for the program.
Waiting to Walk
Gene Laureano, a 53-year-old veteran who has been from the waist down since 2001, was part of the ReWalk study. He is now eagerly awaiting a response on his application for the ReWalk system.
"The tears came down,” said Laureano, who was left paralyzed five years ago after falling off a ladder. “I hadn't spoken to somebody standing up in so long.”
"I just kept remembering the doctor told me it was impossible for me to walk, and then I crossed that threshold from the impossible to the possible."