The ReWalk system is a robotic exoskeleton that allows individuals with certain types of paralysis to stand and walk. After a test involving 45 veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it will pay for the FDA-approved robotic legs that could enable some veterans with spinal cord injuries to walk again. The ReWalk system is currently priced at about $77,000.
Of the approximately 42,000 veterans with paralysis, only a fraction would meet the requirement for an exoskeleton. The apparatus has specific height and weight requirements and is designed only for people with paraplegia, not quadriplegia. A supportive belt around the patient’s waist keeps the suit in place, and a backpack holds the computer and rechargeable battery. Crutches are used for stability, and the FDA requires that an assistant is nearby.
Gene Laureano, 53, is hoping his application for robotic legs will go through soon.
The former Army corporal remembers the day he first tried the ReWalk. “The tears came down,” said Laureano, who was left paralyzed five years ago after falling off a ladder. “I hadn’t spoken to somebody standing up in so long.
I just kept remembering the doctor told me it was impossible for me to walk, and then I crossed that threshold from the impossible to the possible,” he added.
When the study ended, however, so did his ability to walk. He’s been waiting to get the robotic legs ever since. Veterans like Laureano have been petitioning the VA to establish a payment program because many cannot afford the price tag on their own.
Former Army Sgt. Terry Hannigan, a 62-year-old paralyzed Vietnam veteran, was the first veteran to get her own robotic legs as part of a test of the system. She uses them to walk through the mall and shop at the grocery store. “It definitely is a show stopper, especially in the mall with kids. Some say things like ‘Wow, look at Robocop!”