With the help of an exoskeleton, Austin Whitney walked at his college graduation. Austin was paralyzed in a car accident that severed his spinal cord just below the hip region.
Four years ago, the Southern California teen with a 4.0 GPA who loved sports and theater was forced to adapt to life in a wheelchair after he got behind the wheel while drunk and crashed into a tree.
"If somebody told me four years ago that I'd be walking at this graduation, I would have never believed them in a million years," ABC News quoted Whitney as saying.
But Whitney did just that. With mechanical braces strapped to his body and motorized joints directed by a computer brain, he triumphantly walked across the stage at commencement-a moment that reflected more than just the achievement of a four-year college degree.
"Everything over the last four years and all the emotions of it are really going to be climaxed in those two seconds," he said before his big day.
Hospitalized for 41 days after his crash, the incoming college freshman didn't let his paralysis hinder his plans to attend school. Ten days after being released from the hospital, he was in the classroom at UC Santa Barbara, where he spent his freshman year before transferring to UC Berkeley.
Whitney began working with Homayoon Kazerooni, a professor of mechanical engineering, and a team of graduate students to develop the wearable robotic skeleton that helped him achieve his dream of walking again.
"I stood up in that machine for the first time on my 22nd birthday and that was the first time standing up really in four years," Whitney said.
"I trust the machine an amazing amount. I know that machine like it is my own legs," he added.