One of the best things about working at a VA facility is seeing the incredible progress that our Veterans make as they recover from various illnesses and injuries. We’ve seen thousands of Veterans cured of prostate cancer and Hepatitis C. We’ve seen others come into the facility in a wheelchair with two broken legs and later walk out of the building under their own power. It’s a powerful thing to be able to see these stories happen before our eyes.
Recently, thanks to an ongoing research study being conducted in our Spinal Cord Injury unit, we were able to see a few of the most impressive examples of this phenomenon in action.
According to their website, ReWalk is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) to stand upright, walk, turn, and climb and descend stairs. It’s the first exoskeleton to be FDA-approved for home use.
As part of the study, McGuire received six ReWalk exoskeleton systems for Veterans with spinal cord injuries. Ashraf Gorgey, a physical therapist in McGuire’s SCI unit and a co-investigator of the ReWalk study, says that his goal is to eventually send all six of them home with Veterans, giving them the opportunity to live more independently and allow them to walk again.
Marine Veteran Terry Labar and Army Veteran Eugene Simpson are two of the Veterans participating in the study. They’ve been trained to use the equipment and have been practicing walking around the SCI unit as they prepare to eventually master it and take a ReWalk system home with them for regular use. One Veteran has already completed training and taken one home.
It’s truly an amazing sight to see someone walk again after many years of being confined to a wheelchair. For Labar, it had been 33 years since he lost his ability to walk. Several local news outlets, including Richmond’s CBS, ABC and NPR affiliates, visited to witness Labar walking with the ReWalk’s assistance. Task & Purpose also ran a story about him on their website. A week before, a group of 34 medical administration students from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan applauded as Simpson walked down the hall.
We posted a video of Labar on the Richmond VAMC Facebook page. It instantly received tremendous amounts of positive feedback from people who were thrilled to see one of our Veterans getting the chance to utilize such innovative and life-changing technology. The video was shared by a page called United States of Awesome, where it has since been viewed more than one million times. People are excited about what we’re doing here at the VA.
As a VA employee and a Veteran myself, moments like these are undoubtedly the most rewarding part of my job. If not for the VA, Veterans like Eugene Simpson and Terry Labar may never have had access to technology like ReWalk. Being able to see stories like this transpire all around me makes every day worth it at the VA.
Patrick Gordon served in the Marine Corps from 2003 to 2008. He is currently a Public Affairs Specialist at the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia.