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Paralyzed Sioux Falls man walks again using robotic exoskeleton

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. » A Sioux Falls man was able to take his first steps in 10 years with the help of a robotic exoskeleton at a hospital in Minnesota.

Isaac Schreurs, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a motocross accident in June 2005, estimates he walked about 300 feet using the robotic exoskeleton earlier this month at Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis.

"It was very, very cool and surreal, for sure," Schreurs told the Argus Leader. "That was the coolest part, seeing my wheelchair way down there. They hallway was really long, and it was cool to see how far I walked that first time."

Despite breaking his back and the third vertebra below the neck, Schreurs has remained active almost since the day of his accident.

Schreurs, 24, uses hand control to race 350 sprint cars and uses a wide monoski on snowy slopes in the winter. He also exercises frequently and spends about eight hours a week working on his upper body strength and standing.

"I am the most unparalyzed paralyzed person I could imagine," Schreurs said.

The exoskeleton, known as the ReWalk, would be too physically demanding to use all the time, but Schreurs said he’d like to use it on special occasions and while working at Gage Brothers, a local manufacturer of architectural and structural concrete products. He isn’t sure if insurance will cover the cost, which runs more than $75,000, but Gage Brothers president Tom Kelley said he’s looking into how the company can help.

"To think of not being able to walk for 10 years, just stand up and walk, I can’t," Kelley said. "We can’t put ourselves in those shoes."

Schreurs was able to enter the workforce at age 19 through a 13-month program at Northwest Technical Institute in Eagan, Minnesota. He has worked at Gage Brothers for about four months.

"He’s got a terrific attitude, and he’s a great young man," Kelley said of Schreurs. "He fits in well. Everyone that works around him is excited for him. And he’s still grinning from (the ReWalk experience). He’s still walking on a cloud."

A ReWalk specialist told Schreurs that his 300-foot journey was one of the longest and best walks experience by a first-time user. Schreurs believes his focus on exercise enabled him to handle the 40-pound system.

"Regaining abilities that you never thought you’d have the option again, that’s something I don’t know if you can put into words," he said.

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