Exoskeleton keeps Marine on active duty

Afghanistan ambush left Derek Herrera paralyzed

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Even after he got hurt in Afghanistan, Marine Capt. Derek Herrera knew he wanted to stay on active duty, but being in a wheelchair was not an option.

June 14, 2012, is a date Herrera is not likely to forget.

"I was leading a patrol and got shot," he said.

The bullet pierced his shoulder and lodged in his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.

The determination that motivated Herrera to be a part of Marine Special Operations Capable (MARSOC), a small unit of Marines much like the Navy SEALs, motivates him today.  

Using a computer-controlled, battery powered exoskeleton made by ReWalk, Herrera is able to do something today he hasn't been able to do since his injury.  

"To stand up and look someone in the eye is not only physically satisfying but emotionally satisfying as well," Herrera said.

While the device propels him forward, there is a lot Herrera has to do on his own.  

"He has to maintain his balance, he has to initiate the movement and make the device stop, all this without the use of his legs," said Lt. Commander Shawn Weber, a physical therapist with Navy medicine.  

"The first couple of days were eight hours long and I couldn't manage a single step," Herrera said.

But he's getting better at it. The device can only be used in a clinical setting as the FDA hasn't cleared it for personal use, but Herrera is looking to the future.

"My goal is to make this technology proliferate and help as many people as possible with it," said Herrera.

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