Exoskeleton at Phoenix VA Hospital will help paralyzed veterans with rehabilitation

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- Paralyzed veterans in Arizona have a new opportunity to stand on their own two feet again, as the Phoenix VA Hospital now has a wearable robotic suit - an exoskeleton - that rehab patients can use.

The exoskeleton looks like something out of the movie RoboCop, but it's a reality that can really change lives. The robotic suit is programmable to the individual's injuries, and that allows veterans to break out of their wheelchair bubble, and use their own legs and feet again.

"It was just eight years ago they told me I was completely paralyzed and never walk again," said Dan Rose, a U.S. Army veteran.

As a combat engineer deployed to southern Afghanistan, Rose and his crew ran over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), which severed his spine. Now, Rose stands with pride, with the help of the new exoskeleton.

"The first time I stood up, I forgot what it's like to be 5 foot 7, which isn't that tall, but I felt like the tallest man in the world because I got so used to being in a wheelchair," said Rose.

A nonprofit called SoldierStrong donated the exoskeleton to the Phoenix VA Hospital. Rose believes the technology will one day give paralyzed patients the option of going bionic.

"Just like that old cell phone has progressed to what is essentially a computer in our pockets now, that's where this technology will progress," said Rose.

Rehab officials say the benefits of the exoskeleton are beyond physical.

"Often I speak with veterans with spinal cord injuries who feel oftentimes isolated, hopeless, alone and forgotten," said Bruno Subbarao, the polytrauma program leader at the Phoenix VA Hospital.

Rose says having access to a novel machine that once only existed in science fiction shows gives vets hope, and reminds them their service and sacrifice is not invisible.

"Being able to stand up like this is the greatest feeling in the world," said Rose.

One exoskeleton costs more than $200,000, and once the physical therapists are trained on the exoskeleton, it can be used to help up to eight patients per day.