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Sister's music teacher is first Oregonian to use high-tech 'exoskeleton' to walk again (ReWalk)

"If I can just stand up and look at people and talk, I just feel normal."

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) - "It's been more than 13 years, and by the time I remember how to walk again - it's been kind of a journey," Sisters resident Erik Himbert said Tuesday.

The music teacher had another life-changing experience - this one dramatically for the better.

After a horrific snowboarding accident at California's Mountain High Resort in 2009, he was partially paralyzed and lost his ability to walk.

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He told NewsChannel21 on Tuesday that he first recounted what happened and how he thought his life would never get better after that harrowing accident.

"In 2009, I went snowboarding at night with some friends, and it was after a big snowstorm, so there was powder during the day, but it froze - it melted and froze," Himbert recalled. "I was just blowing off steam , and for some reason I just decided to jump - and I hit it with a lot of speed.

"It was all ice, so my board just shot out from under me, and I fell headfirst about 20 feet or so, landed on my back, broke my T-8 vertebra - just smashed it."

Himbert said he felt stuck, locked in and in pain. But he never gave up.

Over time, Himbert refused to let his struggle limit him and his lifestyle. He continued to pursue his life to the fullest, whether it was restoring old cars on his YouTube channel or inventing an award-winning electric stand-up wheelchair for others.

Fourteen years later, Himbert uses a ReWalk exoskeleton - a device that allows him to stand up and walk on his own. The company that makes it said he was the very first Oregonian to receive the machine.

On Tuesday, he completed his physical therapy program at Destination Rehab in Bend.

The exoskeleton, which is operated manually or controlled by smartwatch, makes Himbert feel more like himself.

"Like I can just get up and look at people and talk, I just feel normal," Himbert said.

Jon King, business development manager at ReWalk Robotics, said he hopes to bring the technology to the masses. 

"The exoskeleton is adjustable and a personal device," King said. "So it's customized for the body's leg and torso length and specific range of motion. So we make those adjustments with the technology to fit the individual." 

According to Himbert, the device helps tremendously with his posture.

"It just stretches everything out and my posture has gotten so much better," Himbert said.

Now he can stand upright without too much trouble. But there are challenges.

"I have cramps in my legs because of the lack of communication with my brain, especially when (my legs) start moving," Himbert said. "But the more I walk, the calmer they get."

Himbert turned to ReWalk for access to the technology.

King said the company is working to make it more widely available and is trying to maintain its mission to improve the lives of others.

The goal is Medicare reimbursement.

"Funding in general has been a challenge for exoskeleton technologies in general, let alone ReWalk," King said. "Commercial insurers don't typically cover policies, and so we've had success with our contract with the VA through the Veterans Administration, and workers' compensation insurers will pay for these devices for suitable candidates." 

Himbert said, "It's not lost on me that I really think God is in this whole thing."

He said he wants to inspire other Oregonians with spinal cord injury to pursue all available options.

Source: Sister's music teacher becomes first Oregonian to use high-tech 'exoskeleton' to walk again - KTVZ (01.02.2023)

Tom Illauer

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