Paraplegics Take First Steps With New Device

Company that makes exoskeletons in San Diego for physical therapy conference

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    An exoskeleton currently in development may soon provide paraplegics with the ability to walk again.

    For Army veteran Theresa Hannigan, taking a few simple steps is like a dream. She was exposed to a nerve agent as a Vietnam-era medic, and the treatment left her paralyzed from the waist down.

    ReWalk Exoskeleton System Helps Paralyzed Veterans

    [NATL-DGO] ReWalk Exoskeleton System Helps Paralyzed Veterans
    Theresa Hannigan is an Army veteran who uses the Re-walk Rehabilitation System, an exoskeleton for those whose lower limbs are paralyzed. The unique device is helping wounded vets find ways to walk again. NBC 7's Lea Sutton reports.

    A permanent condition, Hannigan thought she'd never walk again.

    "It's like a death sentence. You don't want to live - you have to find the stamina you have to find a reason to go on", said Hannigan.

    But then Hannigan was asked to take part in research for the Re-Walk Rehabilitation system, and a year ago November, she took her first steps. The Re-Walk is an exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk. It's unique because the patient's body tells the device what to do.

    “My foot clears the floor, I shift the weight. As soon as I shift the weight it cycles my leg to go forward again," said Hannigan.

    Hannigan says for her, the Re-Walk means independence; a push of a button takes her up or down stairs, and before impossible tasks are now made simple - like getting a glass from her cabinet.

    But in some ways right now, it's somewhat of a tease. Re-Walk is cleared for rehabilitation centers, but the personal version is still being approved by the FDA.

    Hannigan moves back to her wheel chair before heading home, but with a restored sense of hope, and an eye on the future.

    "It gives me back my hope -- I can look to the future and say you know what, if I choose I can sit in a wheel chair, but if I want to walk, I can walk now," said Hannigan.

    The study she took part in was funded by the VA and she says they've agreed to pay for her re-walk once the personal version has been approved by the FDA.

    The system costs around $65,000.