ReWalk exoskeleton enables paralyzed veteran to walk again

Air Force veteran Jeff Carneal stands alongside members of the Western Missouri Medical Center Rehabilitation Team with the aid of the ReWalk exoskeleton.

WARRENSBURG — After 17 years, a Henry County resident can once again walk thanks to the ReWalk exoskeleton.

In February 2002, Air Force veteran Jeff Carneal suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a ladder, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down.

After working with Western Missouri Medical Center’s rehab center for 10 years, Carneal was chosen to take part in a study where he is provided a ReWalk exoskeleton through the Department of Veterans Affairs and reports how it has affected him physically, mentally and emotionally.

Carneal said the wearable exoskeleton is equipped with a button on his wrist that turns the motors located at the hips and knees when he presses it.

Once Carneal became able to maintain his balance in the exoskeleton, it allowed him to mimic the act of walking.

“It’s not a cure, but the difference is night and day,” Carneal said.

The walking motion that the exoskeleton provides prompted Carneal to affectionately dub it as “The Terminator.”

“We call it ‘The Terminator’ for a reason,” Carneal said. “When you’re moving, you really look like the Terminator.”

While not a cure to the paralysis he has been dealing with for 17 years, the exoskeleton has enabled him to walk for the first time in as many years, giving him a newfound sense of hope.

“I have had a 180 degree change in attitude,” Carneal said.

Ellie Schmutz, Western Missouri Medical Center marketing manager, said the exoskeleton also helps to work the connection between the mind and muscle that is lost after a spinal injury.

Carneal has been testing out the ReWalk exoskeleton for about four months.

He has been operating it on his own for about two months following his completion of training hours.

Carneal is currently about halfway through his trial.

Once it has been completed, he will be given a choice to continue with the ReWalk model he has or switch to another model, but he said he believes he will stick with his current one.

Having been given the chance to operate the ReWalk exoskeleton, Carneal’s goal of finding a way to walk again has expanded to letting everyone who is suffering from lower body paralysis know that there is a way to walk again.

“It’s not about me, it’s about getting the word out about ReWalk and giving everybody who is in a wheelchair a chance to walk again,” Carneal said.

Staff Writer Dustin Steinhoff can be reached by emailing dustin.steinhoff@dsjnow.com or by calling (660) 747-8123.​

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