DALLAS, Texas — Cutting-edge technology decades in the making is helping injured veterans walk again.
Air Force veteran Luz Pinney is learning to walk years after a serious spinal cord injury. It's something she didn't know was possible after a fall through the ceiling at her home three years ago.
"I had a brain injury. I broke my back and broke several ribs and it was a really traumatic accident," says Pinney.
The VA in North Texas introduced Pinney to an exoskeletal device.
"You put it on externally to help support the joints and the muscles to allow you to do steps or to do long distance walking," explains Joshua Geering, Spinal Coord Injury Physical Therapist at the VA North Texas Health Care System.
Geering started helping Pinney use the device 15 months ago.
"It takes time to get used to being upright to be vertical to take steps," says Geering.
Patients with spinal cord injuries must first work up strength in their skin and joints. Over time the device can be programed to do less of the work.
"There's control at the hips and at the knees. Those we can program how much the machine does and how much she's doing," explains Geering. He says, exoskeletal devices don't only improve someone's physical health-- but their mental and emotional health too.
"It was very emotional," says Pinney. Greeting people at eye-level again brought her overwhelming joy. When it came to walking-- she and her husband couldn't get enough.
"We walked on it as long as we could. We moved the furniture around the house and we go round and round and round and round," Pinney says with a laugh. Using the exoskeleton, Pinney has walked about 28 miles in 15 months.
"My favorite thing is I can walk whenever I want," she says.
Veteran non-profit SoldierStrong donated the $100,000 device to the North Texas VA. It's one of SoldierStrong's 19 donated exoskeletons nationwide.
"2019 marks our 10-year anniversary and so we've transitioned from care packages to scholarships to cutting edge rehabilitative devices so it's been fun to watch the program grow," says Chis Meek, founder and chairman of SoldierStrong.
As Pinney continues to improve her balance, eventually she won't need assistance using the device, but her dreams don't stop there.
"To feel like there's hope at the end of the tunnel and maybe someday I'll walk out of it-- be normal again walk-- that's the most exciting thing," Pinney says.