Paralyzed veteran gets exoskeleton, learns how to walk again


NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Every step that Buddy Laddin takes is a leap forward in his recovery.

After a horrific accident, Laddin is walking again — a moment years in the making.

“I was working construction, we were on the scaffold 36 feet up in the air, and the scaffolding collapsed. When it collapsed, they said I hit a forklift on the way down,” said Laddin.

Laddin told WGNO he broke several bones and his spinal cord exploded.

He was in a coma for two weeks, and when he woke up, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Laddin thought a life without his legs would be his new normal until he became a patient at the Veterans Affairs medical center.

“They seen me, I had a wheelchair, they seen me and they said, ‘Oh, are you here for rehab?’ And I was like no, I said ‘Why, can I do rehab?’ They said sure!” said Laddin.

That’s when he started therapy with an exoskeleton, a piece of advanced robotic technology that helps people with severe spinal cord injuries.

“The beauty of the exoskeleton is that it’s an extraordinary advancement in the interface between a human or a patient, and this robot, exoskeleton material, which includes lots of electronics and motors that allow the patient to stand and walk again,” said Dr. Richard Stone, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration.

The exoskeleton helps Laddin accomplish the simple things he misses the most.

“You’d be amazed just to look at people in the eye, and just talk to people in the eye. It’s so much better. You miss it, you know? It’s hard to believe standing is something that you miss, but you do miss standing,” said Laddin.

Laddin says he is forever grateful for how the VA has served him.

“What I did for them, when I was in the military, that they’re doing all of this for me. I appreciate it,” said Laddin.

The exoskeleton was donated to the VA by the Soldier Strong organization, and it’s estimated to be worth more than $125,000. The exoskeleton weighs 29 pounds, and is customized for Laddin’s body. The machine is powered by a lithium battery that lasts about six hours.

Laddin said he wouldn’t be where he is today without his two trainers, Mattie and Natalie.

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