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"Don't give up": Paralyzed veteran completes New York City Marathon using robotic exoskeleton

Paralyzed veteran’s marathon journey

Terry Hannigan Vereline, a former Army sergeant and Vietnam veteran, made a bit of history at the New York City marathon last week when she became the first paralyzed competitor to successfully finish a marathon with the help of a robotic exoskeleton. Vereline, who is 65, completed the 2019 New York City Marathon by walking the full 26.2 miles over the course of three days. 

"Don't give up," she said Monday in an interview with CBSN. "The things that I did prior to me being paralyzed, I still can do. It's just finding another way of doing it."

Vereline said she felt "ecstatic" about crossing the finish line. "I was doing something I never thought I would be able to do." But she admitted to mixed emotions, feeling sad for those who don't have the same opportunity. 

"Hopefully, someday, we'll have more devices like this to get people up and moving around," she said. "Especially the kids."

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Terry Hannigan Vereline crosses the finish line of the 2019 New York City Marathon using a ReWalk robotic exoskeleton. ReWalk Robotics

When Vereline first got her ReWalk robotic exoskeleton five years ago, the VA provided her with hour-long training sessions three times a week to help her with balance when standing up. "When you're sitting in a wheelchair for a long period of time, standing up, sitting down, your blood pressure drops and stuff like that, so you have to get your body acclimated to that," she said. "Once you've got that done, where your vital signs are stable, then you take steps, one step at a time." 

"By the end of the month, I was walking with nobody holding me."

She explained how it felt to use the robotic device for the first time. "As scared as I was, as soon as they put the device on and I was able to take that first step, that was it," she said. "I was standing on my own two feet. I could look at people in the eyes. I could hug them and touch them." 

More than 500 ReWalk devices are currently used by clinics or for personal use and the veterans community is its bigger consumer. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs established a national procurement policy, working with retired service members across the country who are eligible to receive a device. Andy Dolan, ReWalk's vice president of worldwide marketing, said paralyzed veterans can try the device in clinics and have it customized to their needs, then receive their own device once the VA program or insurance coverage comes through.  

"This was the only company that approached me, and never once asked for a dime, or insurance, or anything like that," Vereline said. "They purely are into getting us up and walking." 

Vereline has a goal of raising $100,000 goal on GoFundMe to help fund accessible playgrounds at local schools for kids with disabilities.

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