An Air Force pilot who has been paralysed from the chest down since 2002 has been able to walk with the help of a special suit.
Lt. Ian James Brown, from New Jersey, is the first military man to test the specially-fitted exoskeleton suit called the ReWalk.
He said: ‘The first time I saw myself walk on video, I said, “Wow”.’
Mr Brown became a paraplegic after a motorcycle accident in 2002 as he was driving back to Hanscom Air Force base in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Now, a decade later, he’s learning to walk again, the New York Post reports.
When he uses the ReWalk, his legs are fitted in custom braces with moveable joints.
He uses his arms to hoist himself upright on crutches.
By tapping a command on the ReWalk’s wristwatch control – sit, stand, walk, ascend – he can do what was once thought unthinkable.
The wristwatch signals a computer inside a backpack Mr Brown wears and moves the Terminator-like joints.
He must lean his body at an angle to trigger a sensor in the hip area and it takes a lot of patience, practice and coordination.
Two aides have to stand next to him to help – one spotting him and the other selecting a mobility mode.
Mr Brown said: ‘The very first time I stood up, I realised this is going to take some work.
HOW THE REWALK SUIT WORKS
- Wristwatch: The control device has five modes: sit-to-stand, walk, ascend, descend, and stand-to-sit.
- Tilt sensor: ThE component in the suit’s hip area that measures the angle of the user’s posture and sends a signal to a computer.
- Computer: Concealed in a black backpack, the computer analyses signals sent from the tilt sensor when the body leans forward between four and 22 degrees.
- Exoskeleton: These outer bones and joints, made of aluminium and steel, are cased in hard plastic and moulded to match up exactly to a user during 3-6 hour fittings.
- Crutches: Necessary to keep balance.
He began his walking lessons in April and the Bronx VA Hospital’s spinal cord injury doctors expect he will master the machine by the end of summer.
He goes to the Kingsbridge Heights facility three times a week to work with the $90,000 device created by Israeli company Argo.
Its inventor, a quadriplegic, expects to roll out cheaper versions next year for home use.
Mr Brown remains hopeful about his chances of mobility.
He said: ‘I had all the bad news at once. My fiancée left me. I was tragically injured and I had to pick a new career.
‘It all hit and I took it with a grain of salt because you can’t change any of the circumstances of your life.’