January 3, 2019
Danny Bal was riding his brand new motorcycle to work from his home in Ocala, Florida two years ago when the driver of an oncoming car fell asleep and ploughed into Bal’s electric-blue bike.
After the accident, which crushed three of Bal’s thoracic vertebrae and shredded a spinal nerve, Bal adjusted to life in a wheelchair. He added a motorized lift to his beloved F-250 truck, explored local trails with a hand-powered bike, and joined a therapeutic horseback riding program.
Now, one of Bal’s daughters is about to get married, and 57-year-old Bal wants to walk in her ceremony. So on a recent Friday morning in December at Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Florida, Bal was back on his feet, taking slow but steady steps as his granddaughter cheered from the sidelines.
To learn to walk again, Bal wore a medical exoskeleton called HAL (for Hybrid Assistive Limb) designed by the Japanese company Cyberdyne. In early 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved HAL for use by clinics and medical centers in rehabilitating patients from spinal cord injuries. This Brooks Rehab facility in Jacksonville started offering the first such treatments in March, and it’s still the only place in the United States where patients can find HAL.