Tyler Densford of Olive Branch, who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury in 2016 as an airman that has left him confined to a wheelchair ever since, has begun taking the next steps toward an ability to walk.
Through a program with the Veterans Administration (VA) in St. Louis, Missouri, Densford has acquired what is called a ReWalk, a bionic walking assistance system. He is now in a four-month testing program to see if he wants to continue using the exoskeletal system beyond the four months.
Densford was recently seen at the Olive Branch Family YMCA testing the system out with the assistance of physical therapists from the VA. He will take walks around the indoor track of the YMCA, slowly but surely gaining more confidence with each step.
“At first, it was pretty tough, I really struggled and needed a lot of help,” Densford said. “The people from St. Louis have been awesome and I have gotten better and better each time we visited and the training progressed.”
ReWalk provides powered hip and knee motion to enable individuals with a spinal cord injury to stand upright, walk and turn. A simple wrist-mounted remote detects and enhances the user's movements. ReWalk is the first exoskeleton to receive FDA clearance for personal and rehabilitation use in the United States.
The VA is presently in the midst of a study on the system and Densford said he is one of 160 working with a ReWalk. He initially went to St. Louis to train with it and has now continued his training with the system at his home.
At the end of the four months, Densford will decide if he wants to keep it. A system commercially will cost upwards of $100,000, but the VA will cover that price tag if Densford chooses to continue with it.
Densford said he applied and was accepted by the VA to work the ReWalk. He said his training program can not only help him, but Densford hopes what he learns can help others with similar injuries.
“It’s something different, and moving forward with progress in medical advances eventually we may be having a cure for spinal cord injuries,” Densford said. “This is just one big step in being able to walk again and having that ability. You can’t put a price on it. That’s what attracted me to it.”
The injury Densford suffered came when he fell more than 20 feet from a helicopter as an airman nearly four years ago. Although he has tried another walking system before, this one has real possibilities for Densford to be actually able to have the ability to be walking, albeit with the aid of a machine.
“Now it’s just like riding a bicycle almost,” Densford said. “It’s really exciting to have to be in an upright position, which is where your body is intended to be. I’ve already noticed some health benefits already. It’s been really fun.”
The health benefits include adding more muscle and improving bone density, both of which suffer from inactivity.
“It’s almost sad when the training’s done and you’ve got to get back into the wheelchair, I kind of want to stay in it,” Densford said. “I just look forward to the next day of training.”