Being on forefront of technology to help wounded veterans earns Holbert invitation to Republican National Convention – Blade Empire

Posted: August 31, 2020 at 8:04 pm

STEVE HOLBERT

Former Concordian Steve Holbert has never been one to back down from a challenge. Paralyzed after a motorcycle accident, Holbert challenged himself and his stricken body to do whatever it took to establish a new normalcy in his life.Holbert, a military veteran, became one of the first people in the United States to use a robotic exoskeleton to not only stand from his wheelchair, but also walk.Being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology is the reason why Holbert was invited to the Republican National Convention (RNC), and had the opportunity to meet President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.SoldierStrong is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of America's heroes. The company donates revolutionary medical technologies to Veteran Administration medical centers and other hospitals across the country to help injured veterans take their next steps forward. Exoskeleton suits, manufactured by Indego, help injured and paralyzed veterans regain their ability to stand and walk again."There are a lot of health benefits to being able to stand up again, let alone walk," said Holbert, whose paralysis is chest high, though he has the use of his arms and shoulders. "It helps your bones, your intestines, your bladder, your entire cardiovascular system. It also has psychological benefits. You just feel a little better about yourself."Being able to do something that so many of us take for granted - like standing upright - means a lot to someone who is paralyzed. "When you're in a wheelchair, you're always butt-level," Holbert said. "When you enter a room you're always craning your neck to talk to people, or people always lean down to talk to you. It's a huge mental boost to be able to stand at the height you were at before you were paralyzed."The Indego exoskeleton suit has a hip unit that is strapped around the waist and lower back, as well as thigh units and lower leg units. Holbert syncs the device to his iPhone."You power the unit on, and when you're ready to stand you lean forward, and the device lifts you into a standing position."Just balancing in the unit, let alone walking, is an undertaking and requires a lot of practice. "The only way to balance is with my shoulders. It's kind of like a teeter-totter. When you're ready to walk you lean forward slightly and it starts walking. When you want to stop, you lean back. You use whatever core muscles you have to help make adjustments."Walking requires an assistant, but Holbert has reached the point where he goes on hour-long walks, making laps in his driveway. "The battery is good for about one-to-two hours, depending on your stride length."How did all of that lead to an invitation to the RNC?"Indego, the company that made my robot legs, contacted me to see if I wanted to participate in the event. SoldierStrong had donated much of the equipment for paralyzed veterans. I just happened to be one of the ones that use an exoskeleton and got invited."Holbert and four other paralyzed veterans with exoskeletons were invited to the RNC, and they were to stand in unison when the national anthem was sung at the end of day three. "They informed us that when Trace Adkins walked up on stage, that would be our cue to stand up before he started singing," Holbert said. "Well, he walked up and started singing immediately before we even had a chance to stand. So in my rush to stand up I must not have completed the required steps to activate the robot. When I tried to stand up nothing happened. So I just lifted myself up with my arms on the walker. Now my legs were just hanging there in the bent position and my wife was sort of freaking out."Holbert's wife helped him back into his wheelchair; he reset the robot and then stood up correctly. "I pulled off my hat and put my hand over my heart and looked to the stage to see the President staring at me. I was thinking: holy crap, I had one simple job to do, and I flubbed it up!"After the song was over Holbert and the other paralyzed veterans used their exoskeletons to walk up to the barrier separating the crowd from President Trump and Vice President Pence. "I had brought along a couple of challenge coins from our Texas PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America) Chapter. I held one out to President Trump, but one of the Secret Service agents was shaking his head at me. Then Vice President Pence walked up, took the coin and shook my hand. I was so flabbergasted that I have no idea what he even said to me."After Holbert returned to his home in Texas he sent thank you notes to the representatives of both SoldierStrong and Indego. "I went thinking it would be cool to know that I got to see the Vice President in person and possibly even the President. When Trace Adkins started singing the National Anthem, I dont think Ive ever felt the desire to stand up and walk more fiercely than right then in front of the President of the United States of America. I guess I feel like it was my duty to stand up, to hopefully show other paralyzed veterans that you can stand up and be proud of yourself and your country."

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Being on forefront of technology to help wounded veterans earns Holbert invitation to Republican National Convention - Blade Empire

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