By Bola Gbadebo
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — “It’s been 13-plus years, and for me to remember how to walk again — it’s kind of been a journey,” Sisters resident Erik Himbert said Tuesday.
The music teacher has undergone another life-changing experience — this one dramatically for the better.
After a horrible snowboarding accident at California’s Mountain High resort in 2009, he was partially paralyzed and lost his ability to walk.
He shared with NewsChannel21 on Tuesday that at first, he recounted what happened, and how he thought his life would never get better after that shattering accident.
“In 2009, I went snowboarding with some friends at night, and it was after a big snowstorm, so there was powder in the day, but it froze — it melted and froze,” Himbert recalled. “I just was blowing off steam, and for some reason just decided to go for a jump — and I hit it with a lot of speed.
“It was all ice, so my board just shot out from underneath me, and I fell head-first about 20 feet or so, landed on my back, broke my T-8 vertebrae — just shattered it.”
Himbert said he felt stuck, locked up 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 life to its fullest, whether it was restoring old cars on his YouTube channel or inventing a contest-winning electric stand-up wheelchair for others.
Fourteen years later, Himbert is using a ReWalk Exoskeleton — a device allowing him to stand up and walk on his own. The company that makes it said he’s the very first Oregonian to receive the machine.
On Tuesday, he graduated from his physical therapy regimen at Destination Rehab in Bend.
With the Exoskeleton, which is used manually or controlled by a smartwatch, Himbert feels more like himself.
“Like just being able to stand up and look at people and have a conversation, it makes me just feel normal,” Himbert said.
Jon King, ReWalk Robotics’ business development manager, said he hopes to make the technology available for the masses.
“The Exoskeleton is adjustable and it is a personal device,” King said. “So it’s custom fit for the leg length and torso length of the body, and specific range of motion. So we make those adjustments with the technology to fit the individual.”
Himbert said the device helps tremendously with his posture.
“It just stretches everything out, and my posture has just gotten so much better,” Himbert said.
Now, he can stand up straight without too much trouble. But there are challenges.
“I have spasms in my legs, because there’s that lack of communication with my brain, especially when (my legs) first start moving,” Himbert said. “But the more I walk, the calmer they get.”
Himbert reached out to ReWalk for access to the technology.
King said the company is working on making it more widely available and seeking to uphold their mission to advance the lives of others.
The goal is to be reimbursed by Medicare.
“Funding in general has been a challenge for exoskeleton technologies in general, let alone ReWalk,” King said. “Commercial insurers tend not to cover as a policy, and so we have have had success through the Veterans Administration, with our contract with the VA, as well as worker’s comp insurers do pay for these devices, for appropriate candidates.”
Himbert said, “It’s not lost on me that I really think that God is in this whole thing.”
He said he aims to inspire other Oregonians with a spinal cord injury to pursue whatever options they have available.
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