Robotics helps Richmond man walk again

Robotics helps Richmond man walk again

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It sounds like something out of a movie: he was told he would never walk again because of a rare disease, but now, thanks to state-of-the-art robotics, Richmonder Robbie Drescher is defying the odds!

"He was the kid that as a toddler was climbing on everything, falling off everything, and going back at it again," recalls his mother, Sharon Drennan.

But Sharon says her avid lacrosse player was sidelined by a rare vascular disease that eroded his spine. The disease is called Blue Rubber Bleb Nevus Syndrome.

"So at age 14, he became a paraplegic," she says. "Obviously, it turned our lives upside down."

Now Robbie is on a mission. He's played adaptive sports. He's graduated high school. He even has his driver's license. And so each week he hits the road -- traveling three hours to Baltimore -- to the Rehabilitation center at the University of Maryland.

Robbie's therapist Marnie -- or as she's affectionately called, "Mom Number 2" -- is literally helping him walk again, thanks to state-of-the-art robotic technology called "ReWalk."

"Everybody compares me to Robocop or somebody from Call of Duty," says Robbie, "But I like to think it's more of like a transformation... like a Transformer."

Why not? He hopes to one day have his own suit, as a matter of fact.

"Rob told me that his new name is 'Robtimus Prime,' and I said, 'OK! We'll go with that,'" his mother says.

All jokes aside, this is intense training. He's eight weeks in. Balance is key; one faulty move and the suit shuts down. It's not long though before Rob is walking. As for Mom, well...

"It's been over five years, and he just took 13 steps," she says. I've been waiting a long time for this."

This is a young man who was told he'd never stand, let alone, walk again.

"He's grown so tall since he has been in the chair for the past five years, and he passed me right by," Sharon says. "And so over these past eight weeks, I've been able to stand next to him. He can put his arm around me."

Keep in mind, this is the only FDA-approved device in the country. It weighs about 50 pounds and the cost?


"We are doing some fundraising," Sharon says who is also writing grants.  "I'm no different than any other mom. I just want my son to be healthy and happy."

Rob knows just the thing...

"I want to stand up and just watch TV standing up, or just small things that just makes the biggest difference."

And one more thing: the days of making that long drive are coming to an end!  I wanted to hear the news first hand from the folks at the VCU Rehabilitation Center…

"I think for the right individuals who have the right motivation, who have the right goals in mind this is an opportunity," says Dr. William McKinley, the Director of Spinal Cord Injury Services at VCU.

It's not a matter of "if" the ReWalk will come to Richmond, just a matter of "when."

"We are lined up with ReWalk," Dr. McKinley says. "We hope to get off the ground in the next one or two months."

So watch out, RVA, Transformers are coming!

"Get a whole Robtimus Prime crew going around here," Robbie says. "Once it's in Virginia, I'm just not going to stop."

"For him, every step has been a mountain," Robbie's mother says. "But he wants to climb that mountain, and I'm right behind him."

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