Dean Juntunen has not walked in almost 30 years, after a fall left him a paraplegic.
“I fell about 30 feet, landed on my back, broke five vertebrae, squashed my spinal cord in two spots, and I’ve been a…complete paraplegic ever since,” he told Local 5 Tuesday in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
The 59-year-old cpmpletes four marathons every year and kayaks regularly during summer months, but he had not walked since 1991, until he joined a study through the Milwaukee VA, giving pareplegic veterans a chance to walk again using robot technology.
That technology allowed Dean to stand up for the first time in almost 30 years.
After undergoing training sessions with physical therapists, Dean will soon get the chance to bring the robot home to Michigan’s Upper Penninsula.
“I want to kind of do the best I can with it,” he said.
Officials with the program believe Dean is holding true to that goal, as he is the first veteran in the Milwaukee V.A. program cleared to tryout the device at home.
In all, 160 veterans are participating in the program at 15 V.A. centers across the country.
In Milwaukee, the search is on for more subjects.
“We’re looking for anyone who’s a veteran and has a spinal cord injury,” Zach Hodgson, who works with veterans like Dean in the study. “any level, as long as you’ve got hand function, we can get you up in one of these devices.”
While Dean says he’s excited to start using the device at home, he’s also happy about the effort that goes into using the device.
“It’s a tremendous workout,” he said. “I might actually start matching my marathon times from when I was in my 40’s. I’ve only lost about six minutes over the years, but maybe I’ll get that back with this robot.”