Justin had been in a wheelchair almost five years from a spinal cord injury he sustained in a car accident when he came across an article that would change his life. The article was about the ReWalk Exoskeleton, a robotic suit with motorized legs that’s helping people who are paralyzed to stand up-right and walk again. Justin, the father of two young sons, never lost hope that he would walk again, but the discovery of the ReWalk turned hope into a fiery determination to get back on his feet.
Justin’s quest to get a ReWalk would bring him and his mother, Shelly, to Special Tree Rehabilitation System, one of only three rehabilitation providers in Michigan certified for ReWalk training. Special Tree’s Physical Therapists began screening potential ReWalk candidates last summer and Justin was the first to meet all of the physical and medical requirements, including getting approval from his insurance company to fund the costly device and the required 30-40 therapy training sessions.
Justin’s ReWalk™ Personal System represents the next generation of exoskeleton technology that was first introduced in 2010 by Israeli engineer Dr. Amit Goffer. Designed for everyday use, the ReWalk enables Justin to sit, stand, and turn, and can be used at home and in the community on different surfaces and terrains with a companion. Developing the strength and balance to use the 50-pound exoskeleton in a variety of environments is why so many training sessions with Physical Therapists are necessary.
“It’s not so simple to use in the beginning,” said Special Tree Physical Therapist Jennifer Ratermann, who helped Justin take his first steps in the ReWalk back in September. “Mastering the ReWalk takes hard work before being able to take one home.”
Justin was up for the challenge. For the next five months, Justin and his mom drove 80 miles to and from Special Tree three days a week for ReWalk “boot camp,” where he worked on everything from standing and sitting to opening doors and walking up and down ramps.
“Justin is super motivated. When he sets his mind to something for sure he’s going to accomplish it,” said Jackie Cunningham, another ReWalk certified Physical Therapist at Special Tree. “It’s one of his best attributes and why he’s been so successful in using the ReWalk.”
But the ReWalk is giving Justin more than the ability to walk. “It’s changed his whole outlook on life,” said his mom. “It’s also been life changing for my grandsons. They don’t remember when he could walk. They can’t wait to walk around town with their Dad. We’re all so proud of him.”
There’s also many physical benefits of using the ReWalk. Based on data collected by ReWalk, the system helps cardiovascular health, loss of fat tissue, building of lean muscle mass, and improved bowel function. These improvements can result in better pain management, fewer medications, and potentially reduced hospitalizations.
On March 3rd, Justin graduated from boot camp with flying colors -- demonstrating his mastery of a long checklist of skills before taking the ReWalk home.
“The ReWalk has changed my life,” said Justin. “I can regain my independence and walk with my kids again.”