ATLANTA - Pete Anziano has lived the past 10 years seeing it all, in his words, from a four-foot perspective.
"I had to find a place in my heart for the wheelchair and for a life without standing up," Anziano said.
Anziano was a motorcycle enthusiast and was on the job for Harley Davidson when he crashed his bike in North Carolina. He was only going about 25 mph.
"I slid off a culvert and I fell about eight feet and landed on a big rock that was standing up out the water," he said. "When I tried to jump to my feet to assess the damage, like I have always done, I couldn't get up. I knew what that meant."
Anziano was paralyzed from the waist down. It took some time, but he has spent the last several years embracing his life in his wheelchair. He even works at the Shepherd Center as a counselor.
Now, the Shepherd Center is helping him walk again. It's because of a robotic-looking device called the Indego.
Physical therapist Clare Hartigan explained what Anziano was doing as he strapped on the 26-pound device.
"He'll set his crutches and lean forward. He'll feel the vibration, then he pushes up and he comes to a standing position."
Anziano's parents were there the same day Channel 2's Jovita Moore met Anziano.
It was the first time they have seen him walk in 10 years. Both had tears in their eyes as he walked across the room to give his Mom a kiss.
"You forget how tall he is," his mother said.
The Indego can be used in a facility like the Shepherd Center, but it is specifically designed for personal use. It allows people, like Anziano, the freedom to walk at home and outside, on grass or gravel.
"I can go to a sporting event of my son's and instead of watching through the fence, while other fathers are standing up at the fence and shouting at the athletes, I can now stand with them," Anziano said.
"It really is a game changer," Hartigan added.
Hartigan has been at the Shepherd Center for 24 years and is the director of the center's robotics program.
"We have people who are tetraplegics, meaning people who are injured from the neck down, who are able to stand up and walk with Indego," Hartigan said. "Now they would have to be with somebody when they did it for safety, but that is totally unheard of - to get a complete quadriplegic walking with the assistance of one or two people.
The Indego is controlled by an app for a smartphone or tablet. The app contains all of Anziano's settings. The actual braces have a green "go" mode, and a blue "standby" mode, controlled by Anziano, so it won't move unless he's ready.
Ohio company Parker Hannifan licensed the Indego two years ago from Vanderbilt University.
"We are beginning clinical trials at five leading rehab centers - top 10 rehab centers, including the Shepherd Center, starting in September," said Parker Hannifin Vice President of Business Development Achilleas Dorotheou.
The first goal is to get FDA approval for the device. A competitor device just got approved, which Parken Hannifin officials believe is a good sign for the Indego.
The second goal is to get enough data and information from the trials to convince insurance companies to cover the device.
A set of three Indego units for a center would cost about $150,000. For personal use, the device could cost up to $70,000.
"There are millions of people who could benefit from this device out there," said Dorotheou. "So to be realistic about making it available and doing good, it needs to be covered."
Hartigen said there is another benefit for insurance companies to cover the device. Paralyzed people tend to gain weight and have other health issues. She said walking improves their health, just like it does for people without paraplegia.
"You think of all of our veterans who have fought for our freedom and they're now in a wheelchair or they have a traumatic brain injury. People who have fought for our country, deserve that opportunity to stand up and walk again," said Hartigen. "We have the technology, we have the device. We have the people who know how to use it."
The Indego can be used as a rehabilitation tool for people who will walk again. For people with paralysis, there are several criteria to use the device.
The patient must have good bones, be of a certain height and weight, have a good range of motion, and be able to stand without getting dizzy.
Anziano said it's a whole need world seeing it from a six-foot perspective again.
"I've been for a walk for the first time ever with my wife. That was a pretty powerful moment," he said. "I've been for a walk for the first time with my son, who was 3 years old when I was hurt."
He admitted it took him two years after his accident to accept that he'd never walk again. He said there's nothing better than proving himself wrong.
"Standing again, I can feel the smile come over me. There's nothing I can do about it. I look into my family's eyes and see the joy they're feeling when they see me up," he said. "It feels like I'm living on that miracle I gave up on years ago."
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