Paralyzed veteran walks again thanks to robotic exoskeleton

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) – Sometimes life throws you a curve, but after a motorcycle crash three years ago, army sergeant RJ Anderson got the curve, the fast ball and the slider all at once. That crash left him paralyzed from the chest down.

So, Anderson wasn’t going to be hitting any of life’s pitches anymore, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take a walk.

Walking down a hallway at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Anderson showed off a high-tech exoskeleton called ‘ReWalk.’

“I thought it was very futuristic looking,” he said.

But there is nothing futuristic about ReWalk. It’s real, and Anderson is the first Chicagoan to receive a ReWalk for personal, at-home use.

“I wanted the best opportunity to get back on my feet and to walk,” Anderson said.

It’s a major step toward putting others with spinal cord injuries back on their feet.

For Anderson, this bionic suit has changed his life.

“To be able to get out of the wheelchair, to be at my natural height at 6-foot-1, seeing over people instead of looking up at people,” he said. “I don’t how I got picked for this or why, but it’s an honor and a blessing to be on the front line of this cutting edge technology.”

For as cutting edge as this exoskeleton is, it’s operation is pretty simple. Anderson tells the suit what to do by using a transponder on his wrist. There are three commands: sit, stand and walk.

“I didn’t think it would work so well. They spent a lot of time with this tech, and it shows,” he said.

Once Anderson enters a command, it’s sent to the processor in the backpack, which also stores the battery.

Operation of the suit is easy, but training to use the suit is not. It took Anderson almost three years of intense rehab at the RIC to master the exoskeleton.

“It requires a lot of upper body strength,” he said.

Once he’s up, he can walk, non-stop, for as long as the battery lasts, which is up to six hours.

Over the next year, researchers at the RIC will monitor Anderson’s overall health.

People with spinal cord injuries often suffer from other health problems due to the inability to walk and exercise. ReWalk, though, gives Anderson the ability to do both, and with every step comes the most important benefit of all — hope.

“You just know life is going to be better. I can walk again. If I can walk again, others like me will be able to walk again too,” he said.

Anderson isn’t going to take the rest of his life sitting down. He’s got big-time goals. Recently, he participated in the National Wounded Warrior Games, earned a medal at the International Invictus Games, and is now training for the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

By Jeff Herndon, FOX 32 News at Nine Co-Anchor

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