EDMONTON — An Edmonton man who was paralyzed from the chest down after a car accident five years ago was able to participate in a five-kilometre walk thanks to the help of technology.

Denny Ross used the ReWalk robotics exoskeleton to take part in the N.E.R.D. Run/walk at Hawrelak Park Saturday morning. The device powers hip and knee motion; leaning from side-to-side triggers a step.

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“It was just a game-changer for me,” Ross said of the first time he used the exoskeleton.

After breaking his back in 2010, Ross said he went through a period of depression and didn’t know what to do.

“Having something that you take for granted so easily as walking just taken away from you, it’s devastating,” he said. “It took months for it to even set in, maybe even years for me to realize the full magnitude of it. And then it took probably a couple more years for me to stop fighting the fact that I thought I would never walk again.”

Wanting to do something to better himself and others in his situation, Ross joined a pilot study at the U of A that looks at how people benefit from the ReWalk. Since joining the project last year, Ross has made incredible progress with the exoskeleton and can now walk more than one kilometre.

“Being able to put on a robot suit and actually stand up and take a step on my own, it was an amazing feeling. It still amazes me every time I get to get up and go for a rip.”

READ MORE: Step-by-step, Edmonton man continues pursuit to walk again

Dr. Jaynie Yang, with the U of A’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, said training with the ReWalk is intense; those using it train five days a week for three months.

“You don’t just put the suit on and walk. It’s a lot of work,” said Yang.

Yang is part of the research team studying how the ReWalk affects the nervous system to help Ross and others with paraplegia. Karim Fouad, director of operations at the U of A’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, said while the ReWalk is just a start, he hopes continued research will help improve people’s quality of life.

“To do that, you actually have to meet these people and learn what they really need and want,” Fouad explained. “You cannot just live in your ivory tower. It’s really important to talk to the community and to break down barriers.”

And that’s why having Ross participate in events like the one in Edmonton Saturday is so important, Fouad added.

“The goal is to have people here to raise awareness of our institute, to raise awareness of neurological disorders and all those things our institute actually addresses.”

Ross was happy to help because he too knows this is only the beginning for him.

“This is just the beginning of the technology, right? Who knows where it’s going to go.”

The ReWalk was purchased by the Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre in 2014 and then leased to the U of A for $1.

All money raised at the N.E.R.D. run goes towards research at the U of A’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute.