07 June, 2014
Men in wheelchairs have come to play basketball.
Bob Amelio leads a team called the Freewheelers. They have gathered here often, but this time is different. Today they have come to see Bob do something he has not done in 26 years: walk.
Bob's physical therapists -- at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Center -- are measuring him. They are getting him ready for a new, high-tech suit that will lift him out of his wheelchair and tell his legs to move.
The suit is a wearable robot, known as an Ekso Bionic Exoskeleton.
People who are between 150 and 190 centimeters tall and weigh 100 kilograms or less may be able to use the device.
When the therapist pushes the button, the Ekso pushes Bob forward and up. Then, motors powered by batteries act as muscles, forcing his legs to move.
Russ Angold is the co-creator of Ekso Bionics.
"They still bear their own weight on their bone structure. The Ekso just provides the support and the ability to move."
Kevin Oldt already uses the suit. He says it brings more than physical changes.
"When you put hope into somebody that lost hope, it changes their whole way of living and life -- hundred percent. That word ‘hope' is a powerful word."
Bob Amelio says standing is much better than sitting.
"When you're sitting down, people are, are looking down on you and you gotta look up and a lot of times you don't hear real well when you're down, sitting down. So it's very important to be that, that you can be eye to eye."
"Will you be OK?"
That is Bob's service dog, Bear. He has never seen him stand before, and he is a little worried.
Within three minutes of putting on the suit, Bob Amelio is walking.
"1-2-3. Bring the walker forward. Yeah!"
"Forgot how tall I was."
The company says everyone who has been given their doctor's permission and is healthy has walked the first time they have tried the device. An experienced user can move from their wheelchair and put the skeleton on in less than five minutes.
The therapists see that Bob's legs are trying to move on their own, before being led to do so by the Ekso suit. They say this is surprising for his first day.
Bob's wife Pam gives him a kiss in celebration.
Bob Amelio dreams of walking his daughter Trish down the aisle at her wedding.
He shows Trish a video of his first walk.
Bob Amelio is looking forward to his next walk -- with his daughter on her wedding day.
Trish: "So it's going to happen?"
Bob: "It's gonna definitely gonna happen! I'm going to walk down the aisle."
Trish: "He's going to walk me down the aisle?"
I'm June Simms.