PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Some are calling it the next generation of wheelchairs, while others are calling it a breakthrough for people with paralysis.
It's a wheelchair that helps people stand up whenever they want.
"You turn the unit on and then you turn the key fob on, so now I can actually operate it by myself," Bill Winchester said.
It's given Winchester a new sense of freedom.
"This handle raises it up. This handle takes the shock. So, I'll try to bring most of myself up as tight as I can for the most part, I'll squeeze this handle and stand up," he said.
Winchester, a fire department captain, struck an illegally parked trailer while training for a bike race last year. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down.
"In the beginning stages, I lost a lot of self-confidence, so I'm trying to gain that back as much as possible," Winchester said.
New technology from the TEK RMD is part of that solution.
It's a Segway-like device that allows people with spinal cord injuries to stand and move while upright.
"It allows me to get that confidence, that self-confidence, that ability to be recognized as an adult standing. The mental element of looking eye-to-eye to somebody is a tremendous mental and moral accomplishment," he said.
Winchester has been able to stand up in physical therapy, but this 200-pound mobility robot allows him to navigate through his house with greater ease than a traditional wheelchair.
"Many homes, especially the older homes, they have really narrow bathrooms that are usually 24, 25 inches wide. Well, my chair is 24 to 25 inches wide. So, if I can't get into the bathroom, I've got to figure out what to do," he said.
He gave a tour of his home to show just how big of a difference it makes.
"So, before, I can't even reach this. I can't even set the controls on the oven. But now, I can. I can actually get into the oven," he said.
"It is absolutely a game changer," Innovations Health Services CEO Dan Niccum said.
Niccum sells the TEK RMD.
Demand has been so high that the company is nearly sold out through the first quarter of 2016.
"It takes someone in a wheelchair who can access 45 percent of their home - they can't cook, they can't iron, they can't vacuum and it puts them in a situation where they can access 90 percent of their home," Niccum said.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, 270,000 Americans live with a spinal cord injury.
Sonny Ali recently became part of that statistic during an anniversary trip to Tahoe with his wife and twin boys.
"I was on a snow tube and it took a wild turn. And instead of going down the hill, I went down a cliff," Ali said.
During physical therapy the computer network engineer swapped his traditional wheelchair for a test-run with the TEK RMD
And he didn't waste any time in scoring an upright kiss from his wife.
Even with a $20,000 price tag, Ali says he's hoping to buy one soon.
"This is an adaptive device that would bring so much freedom to my life. And for the price, I think it's worth it," Ali said.
The device is not covered by insurance, yet, but could be in the next two to three years.
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