Paralyzed NY man walks again thanks to robotic exoskeleton

In 2008 Rusty Chmelovsky fell off a roof.

"It changed my life in a second," he said.

Rusty injured his spinal cord in that 32-foot fall, paralyzing his lower body and sentencing himself to a decade, if not a lifetime, of physical therapy.

"Rusty is willing to try anything," said physical therapist Glenda Rosado of.

Rosado started working with Rusty three years ago after Rusty presented the Burke team with YouTube videos of a robotic exoskeleton.

"When I saw it for the first time, this machine, I thought it will be much harder to walk in it [than it was]," Rusty said. "You don't have that much sensation in your legs. You feel like you're floating."

After years of petitioning, Rosado and Rusty received approval from both Rusty's insurance and the ReWalk Robotics trial program.

"I needed to learn everything, even how to stop, sit, stand, walk," Rusty said.

"The device itself does everything for you," Rosado said.

The battery-powered ReWalk's tilt sensors rely on Rusty's leaning to tell the device to move his legs. Now 39, Rusty equated a stroll in the ReWalk to a cardio workout, leaving him with aches he called enjoyable in muscles he rarely used in a wheelchair and a feeling like he'd just left the gym.

"It just feels great to stand and walk," Rusty said. "I spent so much time in a wheelchair. Now everyone seems to be so tall all the time."

The FDA only approved these ReWalks for home use in 2014, so Rusty's device not only represents Burke's first ReWalk exoskeleton but the first in the tristate area.

"This is my first patient [taking home a ReWalk exoskeleton] so it's a huge moment for both of us," Rosado said.

Five days before Christmas, Chmelovsky, who says he always knew he'd walk again, left Burke striding upright toward holiday celebrations at his home in Putnam County, with plans to walk into a U.S. military ReWalk research program in the new year and volunteer his expertise.

"I still can't believe it," he said, "that I have it and can keep it and can have it at home."