Steve Holbert, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, was paralyzed in a 2010 motorcycle accident. Since then, his goal is to walk again and establish a new way of life. In March 2019, he received his Indego Personal exoskeleton and took 200,000 steps within the year. By July 2021, Steve had completed 500,000 steps or nearly 250 miles. What’s his secret? Harnessing the ambition and perseverance that made him a U.S. Marine.
What is your motivation to use your Indego exoskeleton?
The first motivation is to walk. Hopefully, the robot can help activate nerve pathways between my brain and legs. And if it doesn’t, there are the psychological and physical benefits.
What was the timeframe for achieving 500,000 steps?
It was March of 2019 that I got my personal Indego. I’ve pretty much averaged 200,000 steps per year, so about two and a half years to reach 500,000 steps.
Has your health improved?
My trunk control and posture have definitely improved. My bowel program always works better when I’m using the Indego regularly.
What is your general exercise routine?
I do a 40- to 45-minute session each time. Usually just non-stop walking, unless I stop to let the motors cool down a bit. In the heat of summer, I have to be careful with the temperatures.
How do you stay motivated?
I don’t know a good answer for that other than—I like it. Since I’ve used it for so long, I don’t really think about it being a robot as I’m walking. I don’t concentrate on making the robot function better; I try to make myself walk better, more efficiently. Standing for the national anthem along with all the other veterans in front of the president and vice president of our country is still one of the proudest moments of my life. (Read the Parker Indego blog post: Indego and the Commander in Chief: Steve Holbert's Story.)
Do you have any tips or tricks for using the Indego exoskeleton?
Since I’m a high-level injury, I have found that the tighter I strap on the unit, the better my body moves. My arm and shoulder movements can translate down into the robot to make it shift in the direction I intend to move. Also, when it’s tighter I can better feel where the robot is going.
How does the Indego exoskeleton benefit you?
I can break it down into two categories. Physical and mental. On the physical side, the first thing I noticed within just a few days of using it—my bowel program was better. I suppose it’s from standing up, walking and jostling around my insides; things just flow through my intestines much better, which makes my bowel program easier and more efficient.
Another physical aspect is putting weight on my leg bones. Hopefully it helps reduce the atrophy and even strengthens my bones. I don’t know if it affects my leg muscles, but I do know it strengthens my core and shoulder muscles. When I sit down in my wheelchair I am sort of hunched over in the sitting position, not activating my back muscles. The robot forces me to use my back muscles to keep me in a more upright, erect position. The straighter I stand up, the easier it is to make the robot function correctly. After several months of using the robot, my posture is better. And it’s plain old good exercise for my arms, shoulders, and core muscles.
As for the mental aspect, let me back up to when I was first injured. I did my initial rehab at TIRR (Texas Institute of Research and Rehabilitation) in Houston. In the main facility, along one of the hallways, they have big poster-size photographs of former patients; many of them are standing or walking. Every day when I would roll past those pictures, I would look at them and they would give me hope that someday I could stand up and walk again. A person needs hope!
Fast forward several years to when I first got to use the Indego. We did our exoskeleton training along the hallways in the spinal cord injury unit at the VA hospital in Houston.
One day as I was walking down the hallway, a friend rolled out of his room in his wheelchair. He saw me walking toward him in the robot. I remember the look in his eyes and his giant grin. It was the excitement and hope that one day he would walk again too. Although it’s with the help of a robot, It’s a huge mental boost.
Another mental perk is walking with my robot daily, doing laps around my driveway. Besides the benefit of just being outside and going for a walk, it’s the mental challenge of making my body function in concert with a machine. The more proficient I can make my body function, the more proficient the robot can operate. The combination makes both of us operate better. And that makes me feel good.
What’s your next Indego goal?
One million steps!