May 25, 2024
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RKYHS Hosts Israeli ReWalk in Action

Livingston—A freak hunting accident in 2010 left Dan Webb instantly paralyzed from the waist down. The life of the Warminster, PA resident was forever changed as the result of that 12 foot fall. His entire focus shifted from work, family, and athletics to how he would cross a room unassisted. How would he care for his wife and two daughters? How would he live a normal life?

Having been an extremely active person with his own construction company, Webb found the use of a wheelchair difficult. While he felt fortunate to be alive and somewhat mobile, he longed for some way to get up on his feet and look people in the eye. After much research, he learned of an Israeli engineer, Dr. Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, who had invented the “ReWalk” device, which would allow paraplegics to walk on their own. ReWalk is an FDA-approved motorized exoskeleton available to help paraplegics regain their upright mobility. It is currently used at Moss Rehab in the Philadelphia area, as well as the Bronx VA hospital.

On January 29, Webb demonstrated the ReWalk to an audience of RKYHS students as part of their weekly SEED (Student Enrichment and Educational Development) program. “I have never heard the auditorium so quiet,” commented Rabbi Richard Kirsch, who facilitated this monumental event. “I didn’t see the glow of even one cell phone and, for a room of high school students, that’s saying something.”

Students sat transfixed as the program began with a video of Webb and his family; chronicling their lives from the time of his accident through his rehabilitation. The video ended with footage of the first time Webb demonstrated the device—at the Innovation Showcase at the 2013 AIPAC policy conference. Webb walked onstage at the conference using the ReWalk and was honored and humbled to meet and introduce its inventor, Dr. Goffer. The audience was shocked as Goffer crossed the stage in a wheelchair. A quadriplegic, he is unable to benefit from his own invention, but feels blessed to be able to help others. He himself was humbled by the applause of the AIPAC participants but commented that Webb had given him “the best standing ovation of all.”

Webb spoke of Goffer with awe in his voice. “That someone could invent something for other people that he won’t ever be able to use himself is just amazing. He can gain satisfaction from watching others use his invention, but not use it himself.” Currently, Goffer is working on a patent for a device modification that will one day get him out of his wheelchair and on his two feet.

As the video concluded, Kirsch announced Webb, who crossed the stage on his two legs using the ReWalk, unassisted but followed by his father-in-law and spotter, Ray. Students, teachers and observers immediately got to their feet, amazed and applauding, many with tears in their eyes. Upon reaching center stage, Webb spoke to the audience for several minutes, after which he answered students’ questions. Upon the conclusion of the program, he was surrounded by students and faculty members who wished him well and questioned him further about his experiences.

As of June, 2014, ReWalk was approved by the FDA for home use. Previously only available through medical centers, it helps teach paraplegics to stand, sit, and walk. In December of 2014, Webb finally got his own device and no longer has to make twice weekly visits to Moss Rehab to use it as part of his physical therapy regimen. In order to become eligible for a home device, he had to make a minimum of 30 visits, working with trained healthcare professionals and a set of crutches, as well as pass a series of practical tests such as opening doors and walking up ramps. The device Webb trained on was only the fourth such device created; he now has the newest model which he says is much more sensitive and easier to use. It allows him to exercise and maintain the muscle memory in his legs necessary to one day possibly walk unassisted. Webb is one of a small number of U.S. patients who can handle the necessary equipment to use the device, because his upper body is still mobile and strong enough to manage its weight while standing.

The system uses motorized leg supports, body sensors, and a computerized control box, and runs by remote control and rechargeable batteries. The user picks a setting—sit, stand, or walk—and then leans forward to activate the body sensors. The results are, as the Kushner students witnessed, truly amazing.

“That was one of the best SEED programs we’ve ever had,” was a common refrain in the school that afternoon.

Webb believes his experience, has given him a new outlook on life. He is able to spend quality time with his family and looks forward to February 6, which will be the first time since his accident that he will be able to attend his daughters’ “Father-Daughter Dance” standing upright. After speaking at AIPAC, he now speaks to smaller groups, as he did at Kushner, to share his experiences. He also volunteers his time visiting hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, bringing hope and empathy to others experiencing similar situations.

“I know how I felt at the beginning, and I hope that I am able to make a difference. It feels good being able to give back,” said Webb.

He has also taken from his experience an interest in, and respect for, Israel. “I always knew a little bit about Israel. I’m just amazed; they are such a small country and they are so much farther advanced than so many other countries, and sharing their technology with the U.S. The Technion Institute is just so impressive. Now I follow the news from that area so much more closely. The Iron Dome? That’s just unbelievable,” Webb commented.

Webb has learned to embrace life, knowing that it can change in an instant. His mantra is, “You never know what can happen.”

“ReWalk allows me to feel normal again, to walk from point A to point B, to look people in the face—something I never thought I’d be able to do again with a spinal cord injury. I am a determined guy. I will walk again someday, in some way. My determination was matched by a man in Israel who allowed me to stand here and talk to all of you.”

By Jill Kirsch

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