Paralyzed veteran able to walk with robotic legs at Tampa VA hospital

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One foot in front of the other. It's natural for most of us but for marine veteran Timothy Conner, those steps are a miracle.

He’s able to make them thanks to an exoskeleton suit available to paraplegic patients at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

Connor, however, will be the first to be able to use an exoskeleton suit at home.

It’s been almost a decade since he has been able to walk on his own but the exoskeleton can have him back on his feet.

“Not only can I stand up and look eye-to-eye to everybody, I’m not always kinking my neck looking up at life,” Connor said.

The Marine combat veteran served two tours in Iraq, but just a year after leaving the military in 2010, a motocross accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Conner is the first patient ever to receive an exoskeleton suit from the VA in Tampa.

“I would give up everything I could have from the VA if I could have this," Connor said.

The suit is activated when he shifts his weight, triggering sensors in the suit, which helps move his legs. His upper body catches up with the help of crutches.

Paraplegics like Conner can suffer from pressure sores and skin infections due to the constant pressure of remaining seated.

It’s the very condition that led to the death of actor Christopher Reeve.

“If they're in the wheelchair, we want them to reposition themselves every 20-30 minutes, and being in the exoskeleton gives them the opportunity to move,” said VA Dr. Kevin White.

The technology keeps moving, but it is expensive. This suit costs around $100,000.

“The equipment is very expensive, and that’s part of the reason for the research. We want to know that the patients or veterans are actually going to utilize it,” said White.

In Conner’s case, the VA covered it completely and he's ready to put it to good use.

"It’s kind of a mixture between a RoboCop, Iron Man, and Forrest Gump. I can’t imagine walking without it,” he said.

The suit was made by the company ReWalk, the first exoskeleton developer to gain FDA approval, back in 2014.