Roger "Buck" Appleby is well on his way to realizing his dream of walking again after a motorcycle accident in June left him nearly paralyzed. Doctors had predicted he would never walk again, a prognosis with which he couldn't live.
Now, his physical therapy continues with a state-of-the-art machine known as the Auto-Ambulator, a device that was developed with the help of Christopher Reeves.
Buck said the road to recovery is long and arduous, but he's up to the journey, adding the support he gets from loved ones is essential.
"Without the family I don't think I could make it. This is work and I have to keep at it. Like they say, no pain no gain. It's going to hurt but its worth it."
Buck tried the machine earlier this week at the Yuma Rehabilitation Hospital.
"I tried it for the first time on Monday, and it wasn’t bad. I wasn’t too sore, and I felt like I’d done something."
The Yuma Sun asked Buck how he felt during his time on the machine, and he responded with a smile and a joke.
"It feels fine, the machine is doing all the work," he said. "I’m bound and determined to walk again and this is the next step."
According to Health-South, the company who partners with the Yuma Regional Medical Center to operate the Yuma Rehabilitation Hospital, the Auto-Ambulator uses a suspension system to provide upright posture and create a safe environment during walking.
"This machine is different because it helps (Buck) go through the motion without the aid of five or six therapists," said Holly Jordan, director of therapy operations. "The therapists wouldn't be able to work on him as long because they get tired."
Health-South said therapy with the Auto-Ambulator is designed to help patients improve ambulation by retraining the brain and spinal cord walking mechanism.
Buck's wife, Sherry Appleby, said she is astounded by her husband's rapid progress.
"He is actually going to learn how to walk all over again. It's amazing for him because he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is going to be a lot of hard work, but it is remarkable how much he has done already."
To use the machine, Buck is fitted with a special harness and suspended above a treadmill by an overhead hoist. Robotic arms are then strapped to his legs at the thigh and ankle, and move his legs in a natural walking pattern.
"The machine will tell us how much he is doing and how much it is doing, so we can know how much weight he can support each time," Jordan said. "The more he is able to do, the more the machine will back off. It will keep his body conditioned. The joints can become frozen and the muscles can atrophy, and this prevents that."
According to Health-South, the Auto-Ambulator uses sophisticated robotics to automate therapy, allowing patients to experience a smooth, natural human gait for as long as the therapy is well tolerated and practical.
Jordan said the machine will help Buck learn how to re-route signals to and from his legs.
"Basically it is helping him retrain his brain. The spinal cord injury caused his nerve connections to become damaged, but they are not severed, so he had some movement. What we are trying to do is send those messages down and retrain his body. The more signals that are sent through, the more it will activate the damaged nerve endings, which will help him use them. If you don't use it, you lose it."
Douglas Beach, an Appleby family friend, is a man who has felt Buck's pain.
"I fell off a roof and crushed three vertebrae in my back and basically had nothing from the waist down."
Like Buck, Beach's doctors doubted he would ever walk again.
"I walk pretty well now and it beats a wheelchair. I’m limited to what I can do, but I get around," Beach said. "Buck is going to walk again. He may walk with a cane but he’ll walk, he just needs a lot of help from up above."
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.